It’s clear when talking to Chazz Palminteri that his eight-month-old namesake Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano in New York City is a total dream come true. The actor, who is best known for his roles in A Bronx Tale (based on a story he wrote) and Bullets Over Broadway, collected inspiration and recipes over years of travel to Italy and Sicily, knowing that someday he would open his own restaurant. He strived to create a place that had the type of vibrant, buzzing atmosphere that his friend Frank Sinatra enjoyed at Manhattan celebrity hangouts like Toots Shor’s and Jilly’s, and he thinks he has succeeded. On any given night, you might run into Chazz, who dines at the restaurant two or three times a week, or spot a famous friend like Billy Joel, Sting, Alec Baldwin or Chris Noth having a bite or drink.
When the Robert DeNiro co-directed A Bronx Tale: The Musical makes its Broadway debut on December 1, it will be staged at the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street, the same street where the restaurant is located (a few avenues over). “A lot of celebrities like to come to the show, and I’m going to invite them [to the restaurant],” he says. “We’re going to have a lot of parties every night at the restaurant!”
While the restaurant is a place where you can indulge in a thick cut Chateaubriand for two or lose yourself in a decadent bowl of homemade ravioli in creamy black truffle sauce, Chazz admits that he eats a very clean diet during the week. His habit is to keep it simple and to lean on hormone free fish, chicken and occasionally meat during the week. He tends to save his splurging for the weekends, when he gives in to a few regular treats. Here, he tells The Feast about everything he ate and drank this past weekend, and shares his secrets for outstanding spaghetti.
Breakfast: I’m a very strict eater, but on the weekend I go to a bagel place up where I live in Westchester [NY] and I have a bagel with fresh lox, cream cheese, onion and tomato. It’s like my weekend cheat for enjoyment, you know?
Lunch: My wife made chicken parmigiana with mixed vegetables and a side of linguine. I think the secret to it is that you’ve got to pan-fry the chicken. You can’t deep-fry it. If you have a good piece of chicken and you lightly pan-fry it, I like it that way. Other people like things deep-fried; I don’t like it deep-fried. I think when you deep-fry things you kill the taste. It’s very unhealthy and you make it too oily. People don’t realize that Italian food is simple. The real great Italian food is fresh, but simple ingredients. I had it with a really great bottle of white wine, a Bâtard-Montrachet. I have a wine cellar in my house. Once in a while, I like to spoil myself; it was a pretty great white wine.
Dinner: I went to the restaurant and had osso bucco. It’s so unique there because he cooks it on the bone for five hours and it falls off the bone. It’s the only place where I eat it, I don’t have it at any other place except my own restaurant. I had it with a bottle of Sassicaia wine. You know, you can’t wear brown shoes with a tuxedo. No matter what, it doesn’t look good. And to have a great glass of wine with a great meal, wow! And you know what it really comes from?
When I was broke and I had no money, I would get the house wine or a bottle of cheap wine and the guy would go, “How’s the wine?” And I’d go, “Okay.” And it really was bad! I couldn’t afford better wine. So I said one day, when I have money, I’m never gonna drink another glass of bad wine again. There were two things I told myself: I would never drink bad wine and I would never fly coach again. And I try to keep that up. It reminds me of when I had no money and I couldn’t drink good wine.
Breakfast: My wife made pancakes and she did this thing where she put applesauce in them and it was really great! She used gluten-free Bisquick and applesauce and it’s really amazing.
Late lunch/early dinner: We made spaghetti and red sauce at home on Sunday, which I had with a glass of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. My wife made tiramisu for dessert and we had a cappuccino with that.
Sunday’s my day where I enjoy splurging. It’s my splurge day. I look forward to the meal on Sunday very much. A lot of times I make the sauce on Sunday. Not every Sunday, but a lot of times I do. I wake up Sunday, I put Frank Sinatra on or I put Andrea Bocelli on and I start making the sauce. And you get the smell of the basil, ah! It’s fabulous.
I use the fresh tomatoes that I get from this place called Teitel Brothers in the Bronx. They get them certified from Naples and they’re just wow! I mix them together with a box of Pomi and the cans of San Marzano tomatoes. The whole key is to mix the three types of tomatoes together. That’s when the flavor is even better.
I’ll give you a little trick for the spaghetti: When I get the basil and the water is boiling, I tie it up with string and I throw the basil in the water and the water turns green, right? And then, before I put the pasta in, I take the basil out because some people don’t like the basil leaves in there. And now, you’ve got the flavor of the basil and all the water is green but you don’t have to take them out later.
Here’s the problem with pasta: People just don’t know how to cook it! They cook it too long. When you make really fresh pasta, it only stays in one or two minutes. It’s literally in the water — boom, boom boom! — out of the water. It has to be al dente. Otherwise, it mushes and the sauce doesn’t stick to it, so you have to stay on top of it. People put the pasta on and then they walk around and they start doing things. Fresh pasta, minute, two minutes! That’s the whole thing.
If you want to go to an Italian restaurant and you want to find out if it’s good or not, you order the simplest dish. You order spaghetti or linguine with a simple marinara sauce. If that’s good, if they make that right, usually it’s a good Italian restaurant. You’ll know right away. The pasta has to be perfect, the sauce has to be perfect, and if it’s not, you know everything else on the menu’s probably not good. The sauce is the glue that sticks all the dishes together, and if they can’t make a good spaghetti marinara, forget it. Forget it.
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