Last week I reported on how New York’s finest French restaurant, Le Bernardin, re-opened and proved the resilience of the city’s fine dining segment. So, this week I am just as happy to report that the city’s finest Italian restaurant, Il Gattopardo, located in a former Nelson Rockefeller townhouse across from the Museum of Modern Art, run by Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino and Chef Vito Gnazzo, is showing the same commitment to maintaining fine dining with an Italian flair and refinement that have always been its hallmark.
Named after the great 1958 novel of Sicilian life, Il Gattopardo, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, the restaurant is spread on two floors of the Beaux Art townhouse; upstairs is the main dining room, downstairs a vast party room, and in their streamlined minimalist décor both make good stylistic neighbors to MOMA across the street. The lighting is soft and glowing in the dining room, the walls free of artwork, and the comfortable chairs, double tablecloths, thin wineglasses, fine china and fresh flowers maintain the metropolitan level of sophistication.
The mostly Italian wine list exceeds 300 labels, all selected by the affable Gianfranco himself, still with many wines under $50. Gnazzo, from Salerno, had worked at the renowned Antica Osteria del Ponte outside Milan, then at the equally esteemed Rex in Los Angeles. At Il Gattopardo he shows a further upgrading of cucina Italiana, proudly specializing in Southern Italian classics that he makes the most of, never elaborating when perfect simplicity can be so key to a dish’s success.
We left ourselves in his hands for a tasting menu that began with smoked mozzarella called provola in a hearty pizzaiolo sauce of tomato and basil ($25 à la carte), and cuttlefish and artichokes sautéed with a touch of anchovy and white wine over frisée greens with sun-dried plum tomatoes and Taggiasca olives ($26). Both showed the bright color and sun-enriched flavors of Gnazzo’s home region, as did a pasta of buffalo ricotta gnocchi with black truffles, sweet sausage and toasted mascarpone cheese ($45). This was a lavish dish (and all portions as a main course generous) in which the gnocchi are enhanced, not covered over, by the other ingredients. If you are a fan of bottarga (dried roe) you will love the spaghetti with grey mullet bottarga, garlic, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and a hint of crushed Calabrian red pepper ($30). I found the bottarga flavor too pronounced, when it might have been subtler.
Gnazzo treats Sardinian fregola like risotto and enriches it with spring’s sweet asparagus tips and sea scallops ($32), a dish that exemplifies a more delicate touch of which texture has as much to do with the dish as taste.
Rombo, or turbot [$140 for two], is a wonderfully gelatinous form of brill that usually does not translate well when shipped across the Atlantic, but Gnazzo’s treatment, simply roasted and glossed with olive oil and parsley, with sautéed broccoli di rabe on the side, was impeccable. The fish, lifted from the bone, had a velvety fat and sweetness, and it is remarkably filling.
Unlike most Italian restaurants both here and in Italy, desserts are not an afterthought at Il Gattopardo. The deeply satisfying mousse di cioccolato with Aglianico wine heart ($18), and the tangy sweet “Delizia al limone” of sponge cake soaked in Limoncello Amalfitano with white chocolate curls ($18) are delights, and don’t miss the traditional Neapolitan cheesecake called pastiera ($18) made with wheatberries.
Thanks to the Museum also being open and the restaurant’s location on a street of townhouses, even lunch is feasible.
Il Gattopardo also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays with items like ricotta pancakes with berries and maple syrup ($21) and eggs in a spicy cherry tomato sauce with pancettabacon.
The Sorrentinos also run the little trattoria Mozzarella e Vino (now under reconstruction) next door and, up near Lincoln Center, the very fine Leopard at Café des Artistes. All share the dedication to keeping the best that Italy has to offer in terms of ingredients, cooking and service that can be found in New York right now, and it’s a beacon for others to follow as restaurants recover from the pandemic.
13-15 West 54th Street (near Fifth Avenue)