Will the Spectacular New Casa Limone Help to Revitalize New York’s Midtown?
There is a kind of unofficial changing of the guard that occurs post Labor Day, especially in New York City. From yet another edition of Fashion Week, to gallery openings and record release parties, a full schedule (bye-bye summer Fridays) always awaits on the “other side” of summer, as the lazy days disappear into the sunset, to be replaced by very busy nights. 2021 is obviously very different, though, for reasons that hardly need reiterating.
This is especially true of Midtown, arguably the city’s financial epicenter, where restaurant and theater owners are right now holding their collective breath (With trepidation? Excitement?). Indeed, scores of companies are preparing to bring their worker bees back to non-virtual workspaces, those that have been shuttered for the past eighteen months, and the bright lights of Broadway have been switched back on. So despite the determination of this thing called Delta Variant, the city that was finally put to sleep last March (for our own safety) is about to be cautiously reawakened.
One restaurateur in particular is betting big on a Manhattan comeback. Chef Antonio Salvatore, who earned his first Michelin star earlier this year for his eponymous La Table d’Antonio Salvatore au Rampoldi in Monte Carlo, Monaco, intrepidly carried on with the opening his inaugural North American venture, Casa Limone, in the heart of Midtown East. An homage to the food and culture of Southern Italy, stepping through the two story glass walled facade into the strikingly theatrical space, one immediately feels as if they’ve been transported to somewhere on the Amalfi Coast – especially when settling into one of the bright yellow velvet chairs or ocean blue banquettes, surrounded by romantically draped flowers and vines. With word having come that Europe is reinstating its entry restrictions, a pampered, unhurried evening at Casa Limone right now feels like the closest thing to actually being in Italy.
As for the menu, pastas particularly stand out, including the Orchiette all Pugliese w/ broccoli and Italian sausage, and the Ruotta di Caro w/ capers, anchovies, basil and ricotta. But the veal, octopus and yellowfin tuna carpaccio are also utterly unmissable. There’s also a Frittata Casa Limone w/ ‘Nduja for breakfast, Uova del Cacciatore and Lobster Benedict for brunch, Siciliana and Calabrese pizzas for literally any time…and the bar makes a perfect Negroni.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Chef Salvatore about what opening an ambitious restaurant like Casa Limone means in the age of COVID.
You grew up in Southern Italy and came to fame helming Rampoldi, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Monaco. What influenced your decision to open your first North American eatery in NYC?
When discussing how and where to expand our global footprint, like many, New York is the dream. I love the city and, along with my partners, knew that it would be the best location for our first big move. We were determined to test ourselves and plant roots in a city as difficult and competitive as New York. Like many other restaurants, the debut of this project was delayed due to the pandemic; however, we are very happy to have gotten the doors open. I’m very humbled to have been able to do it during this period of recovery. What makes it even more special is that Casa Limone is a personal project where I’m able to offer variations of the dishes and ingredients I grew up eating.
It seems daring to open a highly designed “statement” restaurant in such uncertain times. How do you envision the restaurant scene in Midtown as we transition into (almost) post pandemic times, and how might that affect Casa Limone?
Being that we’re the Monte Carlo Hospitality Group, it’s hard for us to not make a statement, as Monte Carlo is all about bold statements and design. While the times might be uncertain, New York is the epitome of resilience. No matter where you are from in the world, when you think of New York and the people that live here, you imagine highly motivated, determined and hardworking people hustling throughout the city. The pandemic has certainly impacted our industry, but we’re remaining positive. I always believe that in life there are hard times, but from them come beautiful moments…and good food is always appreciated. We’re confident the city will get back to what it was…you can already feel it. Midtown is getting busier, people are slowly coming back to work, tourists are coming back, and our proximity to Rockefeller Center and Saks Fifth Avenue certainly helps. We’re here to welcome everyone back.
In addition to a memorable meal from an award winning chef, what experience do you hope guests take away from Casa Limone?
I want guests to feel as if they have been transported to Italy from the moment they step into the restaurant. Casa Limone is beautifully designed, over two floors, to feel like the streetscapes of the Italian South, the streets of Naples, Sicily, etc. We want people to be able to join us for a good meal and for just those few moments live in the moment and forget about what may be happening in their personal lives. The way we designed the menu too allows guests to return a few times, maybe one day for Burrata Pugliese and a pizza, the next visit for the Timballo alla Trapanese, or just for a quick breakfast meeting with coffee and cornetti.
With European travel restrictions still in effect, are there any particular dishes that might transport one to the Southern Italy?
There may be too many to choose from. We love being able to showcase the Italian South and the regions of Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria, Campania and Sicily. It’s been fun to see guests explore the menu and learn a bit more of where all these dishes they’ve had before or have heard of actually come from. If they want to feel like they’re lounging on the Amalfi Coast, they can enjoy one of our Naples-inspired pizzas, or the regional speciality of Polpo alla Luciana. If they’re feeling like a more classical, rustic setting such as my region of Basilicata, they can try the Provolone Podolico, a baked cheese from that area, or our Ravioli Casa Limone, which is a play on the region’s famed Ravioli con Ricotta and Salsiccia Lucana. They can also feel like they’ve gone to the Island of Sicily with our pastas such as the Busiate Siciliana or Paccheri alla Norma, and sweets like house-made cannolis and cassata cake.
Finally, as we hopefully begin to put the pandemic behind us, are there any plans for expansion to other US cities?
Our group, Monte Carlo Hospitality Group, is currently focused on New York. And we are relaunching the celebrated Atlantic Grill near Lincoln Center later this year.