IL GATTOPARDO has to be one of the most sensational Southern Italian restaurants in all of Manhattan -- besides being named for Tomasi di Lampedusa's Italian novel of the same name, and quoted on the restaurant's website: "Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com'e bisogna che tutto cambi" ("If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change").
There's a message in this quote, about renewing and revitalizing the grandest of Southern Italian tradition, which this restaurant does stunningly well.
There's an even more pointed message in the restaurant's pledge that "passion is our main ingredient." Having enjoyed a most memorable evening at Il Gattopardo, I would have to say that this is no idle boast.
Invited out of the blue by an old friend to dine here (it's in his hood!), we were charmed from the first moment we stepped into this elegant townhouse basement restaurant across from MOMA.
Contrary to the occasional complaint I've read on TripAdvisor about poor service, we were treated extraordinarily well by the staff.We particularly enjoyed our solicitous young waiter, who regaled us with tales of his Sicilian grandmother.
We also loved the spiced dipping oil and ample bread basket, which came (unusually for an Italian restaurant) with a beautiful dark bread that hinted of fruit and nut. The chef sent us an amuse bouche plate that included tasty little fried rice balls. We were savoring the restaurant before we had even ordered a thing.
Our friend's wife assured us that we could order anything because "EVERYTHING is good." She was absolutely correct. Her tip, which I pass on to future diners at this fabulous restaurant is: "Go for the specials -- especially the fish."
I followed her example and chose the stuffed zucchini blossoms for an appetizer, followed by the best filleted Dover sole I've ever eaten anywhere, including Italy. So simple, but so good!
My husband ordered the Scialatielli pasta with shellfish ragout for an appetizer, followed by the Mangalitsa pork chop (from a special pig, with meat that tastes more like steak than pork). Both were beyond delicious.
Feeling quite full, we ordered only two desserts to share between the four of us: a rhubarb crostata and a warm soft chocolate souffle with vanilla gelato. Both were spectacular, but if you like chocolate, do not miss the souffle. It's heaven.
The chef surprised us with a beautiful little plate of biscotti to make sure we didn't go home hungry.
If you're looking for a perfect meal, this is it.
Remember: "EVERYTHING IS GOOD."
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