As white-jacketed waiters swirl through the windowless dining room of Il Gattopardo — husband-and-wife-team Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino’s MoMA-adjacent Italian restaurant — its easy to image you’re in the dining room of a yacht off the coast of Capri. In fact, you’re on the ground floor of John D. Rockefeller’s Midtown mansion.
Entered through the old servant’s door below the stoop of the landmarked mansion, the restaurant’s location gives you the sense that you’ve stumbled upon something hidden and special. Inside, the decor is stark, edging towards nonexistent. But the service is fast and generous and you quickly forget about the rest of the room, as the food takes center stage.
Since chef Michele Brogioni left Il Gattopardo’s sister restaurant — the Leopard on the Upper West Side — for the Armani Ristorante on Fifth Avenue, chef Vito Gnazzo has been running the show at both the Leopard and Il Gattopardo. And while Gnazzo’s refined Italian classics are definitely on display at both restaurants — bright mozzarella, fresh pastas and fish fillets — Il Gattopardo has it’s own, distinctive flavor.
Sorrentino says that while the Leopard is a pan-Italian restaurant, Il Gattopardo (which means “ocelot” in Italian) serves up the food of his native Campagna.
Think grilled octopus with oven baked fingerling potatoes, celery hearts and Castelvetrano olives. Think fagottini filled with spring greens and buffalo ricotta, in a tomato and marjoram sauce. Think codfish with Gaeta olives, capers, cherry tomatoes and potatoes. And definitely try the buffalo mozzarella “in carrozza” with in an anchovy sauce and whatever the fish special is that night.
While the Leopard has always benefitted from the fact that it has the most beautiful dining room on the Upper West Side (and possibly the city) — the Howard Chandler Christy murals of frolicking nude flappers against the white jacketed waiters filleting Dover Sole table side creates a rare only-in-New-York ambiance — Il Gattopardo lives and dies by its food alone.
By that measure, it does well.