Il Gattopardo at The Rockefeller Townhouses
Traditional Italian cuisine meets American history with spectacular results
Situated in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the culinary treasure known as Il Gattopardo resides in a historic townhouse built in 1897. Designed in the Beaux Arts Renaissance style by architect Henry Hardenbergh (Dakota Building and Plaza Hotel) and situated on the “Millionaire’s Row,” Il Gattopardo welcomed us with a sense of elegance and history immediately upon stepping out of our car at 13-15 West 54th Street. Named after their most famous owner, John D. Rockefeller, who called it home for nearly forty years with his wife, Laura Spelman, and their five children, this is an example of the fashionable structures of their time that once characterized this part of Manhattan and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally from Naples, Italy, it was the vision of Gianfranco Sorrentino and his 30 years of experience including that at Quisitana Hotel in Capri, Dorchester Hotel in London, Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo and Sette MoMA Restaurant at The Museum of Modern Art, that was the breeding ground for what can now only be described as greatness.
Every detail—lighting, decor and musical inflection has been carefully crafted to create an ambiance of dining that in this day and age seems to, at times, get lost. We were seated with high expectations and the record continues. The formidable wine list was front and center and got some exercise throughout our exquisite meal, but not before we enjoyed a Negroni created to utter perfection. Isn’t it funny, how sometimes the simplest drinks are the hardest to execute properly? This certainly did not fall into that category and set the table for what was to be an extraordinary meal.
We decided to start off with the seemingly simple dish of Parmigiana of Zucchini (with smoked mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce and basil). I proudly shared with our waiter how I have made this dish over the years, but my pride rapidly diminished as I tasted this true “work of art!” I do not know what they put in this appetizer, but it left me speechless and quite simply humbled and certainly eternally silenced me on this particular issue. With my pride now checked with my overcoat, we gladly moved on to the Grilled Octopus which was served with oven baked fingerling potatoes, celery hearts and Castelvetrano olives—a classic preparation that was quite simply, more tender than can be achieved by mere mortals. Yes, this was also, that good.
It was around this part of this delightful experience that I noticed that time started to somewhat stand still. Maybe it is a European thing, but the casual, non-rushed nature of this experience was settling in and having a most lovely effect—pure relaxation. This is the thing, that diners of all backgrounds seek—“the experience.” The arrival of the Mezze Maniche, a pasta dish accented with Nduja sausage (a particularly spicy, spreadable pork salumi) and sweet onion ragout scented with rosemary, was also an exercise in perfection and effortlessly transported us to a Northern Italian farmhouse for the finest comfort food available. Moving on, the Oven Roasted Monkfish served with a ceci bean purée and garnished with fried leeks was exactly as you’d expect at this point—fresh and seasoned just enough to heighten your senses to keep the fairy tale alive and well.
It was only the array of desserts (none of which were overly sweet) alongside a delicate serving of grappa that closed this chapter of a book that I know for sure—I will definitely read again!