First impressions do count and linger.
MONTENAPO RESTAURANTE DELLA MODA has opened in the New York Times Building at 8th Avenue and 41st Street, where the theater and fashion districts intersect.
I enter Montenapo at 250 West 41st street. Before descending the few steps that lead down to the bar and dining room, my eyes cross the room, taking in the understated elegance and inviting ambiance of this meticulously planned, designed, and decorated restaurant. The view of the bar and restaurant, with its high floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the buildingâ€™s lush birch tree Atrium, is quite magnificent.
My first impressions are not surprising, given the reputations of owners Henry Kallan and Jozef Jouk. The menu (which will change seasonally) is under the baton of Executive Chef German Lucarelli and Pastry Chef Carolina Perego, who, along with Henry and Josef, are committed to presenting authentic Italian recipes, using only the finest natural and organic ingredients, grain fed beef, free range poultry, and wild caught fish. All the pastas, breads and deserts are made fresh daily.
There are enticing and intriguing plates to choose from under the headings: Per Iniziare (appetizers and salads), Dalla Tradizone and Al nuovo (a wide variety of pastas) and Platti Principali (main course). The deserts, prepared by pastry chef Carolina Perego, deserve a standing ovation; they are so outrageously decadent. The waiters are happy to be serving you, and Josef is dedicated to pleasing you. Dishes can also be modified to suit your lifestyle or dietary needs.
I am a big fan of Henry Kallan, owner of The Elysee, The Library, Hotel Giraffe and Casablanca Hotels in New York City. (He was also part of the team that built the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District). Having had an opportunity to be a guest in the exquisite Aria Hotel in Prague which Henry built as a tribute to the musical greats of the world, I have great respect for his vision, taste and talents as an hotelier. When I heard Henry was opening a restaurant, and his long time friend Jozef Juck was going to be his managing partner, my response:â€ť count me inâ€ť.
The history of Henry and Jozefâ€™s friendship spans more than four decades. They escaped from Czechoslovakia to Austria at ages 18 and 20; Jozef came to America in April; Henry followed in May. Over the years, Jozef managed and owned restaurants in New York, Hawaii and Texas; Henry built a reputation as the owner of hotels in New York and Prague. Jozef went back to Prague to manage the Aria; which Henry has since sold to his Czech partners. Now, once again, these two loyal friends have fused their talents to create a breathtakingly beautiful light and airy space where the tables, to my delight, are so spaciously placed one cannot hear conversation at any other table.
Jozef, greets and welcomes us. His European charm, boyish grin, professional skills and desire to please is refreshing. He leads us to a table; moments after we are seated, a waiter brings a basket of potato chips sprinkled with truffle oil and parmesan cheese (served at the bar) and one filled with a variety of baked on the premises with no preservatives breads and rolls; the rosemary breadsticks are addictive as is the attentive service.
There are three of us dining, and we leave it up to Josef to make suggestions, and for the chef to hopefully raise our taste buds to a memorable level. What follows is a tasting of truly fresh and artfully prepared and plated courses. We begin with the Floriali: a salad mix of asparagus, zucchini, semi dried cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, raspberries, caper berries and edible flowers, followed by a medley of three delicious pastas, each with its own unique flavors: Paccheri, a tubular pasta with spicy sausage, garlic, cherry tomatoes, white wine, pine nuts and Italian parsley . . . linguine with mussels and manila clams, chili peppers, extra virgin olive oil, sparkling wine and parsley... and ravioli filled with braised lamb cheeks, served atop celery root puree and a veal stock reduction.
For our Piatti Principali, we are delighted with the caper crusted Alaskan Wild salmon, served with sautĂ©ed artichokes, white asparagus, spring onions and extra virgin olive oil; it is moist, flaky and perfectly cooked. The Ossobuco, a slowly braised veal shank seasoned with lemon zest, rosemary and garlic, and served with saffron risotto, is succulent and so tender it melts in my mouth. Josef insists we share a few deserts; easier said than done after such a hearty banquet, but we acquiesce. The rich creamy tiramisu deserves â€śa best desert in townâ€ť nomination.
I return to Montenapo for their Grand Opening, July 28th. The dining tables have been replaced with bar height small round tables where guests will stand to sample a wide array of antipasti, entrees, pastas, cheeses and deserts. One large table and a few banquets offer seating; serving stations surround the room; the handsomely dressed crowd is socializing as they drink champagne and wine from flutes and goblets. Henry Kallan and partner Josef Jouk circle the room, stopping to chat with family, friends and guests. The evening is festive and fun; the food delicious, bountiful. and beautifully presented.
Montenapo is more than a fashionable restaurant; it promises to be the Broadway Theater Districtâ€™s newest star and a tour de force of New Yorkâ€™s culinary world. Come to Montenapo; the bar is great, and you will enjoy a memorable fine dining experience.
For Reservation: 212-764-7663 or
In addition to their extensive a la carte menu, Montenapoâ€™s Special $35 three courses New York Restaurant Week Summer menu has been extended to September 7, 2009. A Special Pre Theater menu will follow.