I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about a meal at Zanaro’s. I’d eaten there once before — just once — and it was unpalatable. Seriously so bad I didn’t even bother to mention it here. Well, the restaurant got a new chef, and he has breathed new life into the kitchen. I had four amazing dishes, from salad to appetizer to pizza to pasta. Only one minor miss in the bunch. I’ll get to that in a moment. Meantime, check out the view from the balcony.
Zanaro’s, on the corner of Mamaroneck and Main in White Plains, is in an old bank building. If you can see about noon to 1 o’clock in the photo above, there’s a vault where you can dine. Fun for a party, I’d say.
The decor, otherwise, isn’t to my taste. Perhaps Eleven Madison Park has spoiled me, but when I think of dining in a bank, I think soaring and elegant. These murals instead distract me.
And this area by the bar cordoned off with back curtains feels sort of haphazard to me. You can see it in this photo:
And here’s the eye level view:
We were at the bar, which was comfortable. Here’s a look over my shoulder into the dining room:
The bartender was superfriendly, too. He made my friend a negroni, and even though he had to look up the ingredients, it was very tasty indeed.
It’s been a long time since this visit — it was before restaurant week and I wasn’t able to get to writing this blog post until now — but I think the bartender’s name was Chris.
The chef’s name is Joe DiMaggio, Jr. Yes, he’s a distant relation to the baseball player.
He’s a managing partner of the restaurant and has experience with menu development and restaurant concepts through a company called Food Innovations. He’s also lived in Italy, California, Toronto and in Naples, Florida.
Here at Zanaro’s, he made a few changes. The waiters no longer wear tuxedos. He brought in occasional live music. And he changed the menu.
“People have been really accepting it,” he told me by phone before I went to the restaurant. “There were a few people that really wanted the deep fried flutes of burritos that used to be here,” but mostly he just tells them: “please accept this menu and try it.”
Eighty percent of the menu comes from his grandmother’s recipes. Especially popular is the Grandma’s Sunday Sauce, chicken scarapiello, the potato fritata, the shrimp and lobster with spinach over angel hair pasta and the tuna crudo.
We tried that tuna crudo.
It came with sriracha, blood orange and cilantro, and sounds like a great combination. But the knife skills were not there to make this dish sing. The tuna was very thick and full of sinew. Also, the chili sauce was a little strong and overpowering.
Next we went for the chopped salad:
Carrots, cukes, olives and grape tomatoes. Great. Nice dressing. Fresh ingredients. Good combination. Very refreshing. We were back on track.
Next we tried Pizza in Purgatory.
So good. Poached egg, spicy pepper oil, basil, San Marzano tomatoes and Romano cheese.
Delicate, crispy and milky mozz. And look at that egg!
We also went for an appetizer, polenta:
Rich, creamy and earthy. The topping is wild mushroom and shallot in veal demi glace with artichokes and provolone in the center. This is perfect for these raw spring nights we’re still having.
And, served in this goregous La Chamba earthenware pot (as was the polenta), is Grandma’s Sunday Sauce:
Lamb, pork, meatballs and beef over rigatoni. Real depth of flavor. Pasta al dente. Very satisfying. Dare I say better than some people’s Grandma’s? Definitely better than my Grandma’s.
And, in keeping with the way I very much like to eat, I can also highly recommend sharing several dishes for a meal, as I did, with three other people. The four of us each had a manageable portion of food and all got to share in the progression of delicious flavors that danced across our plates. I can’t remember a time when I’ve more pleasantly surprised with a meal.
I also want to mention the wine. They have an interesting list from Oriel. It took me a moment to get my head around what Oriel does, but it boils down to this: many winemakers around the world make small produciton wines with terroir from their regions, and the wines are bottled under the Oriel label.
Zanaro’s has got quite a few good deals going on, too. A happy hour Monday-Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. and again fro 9 p.m.-close it’s half price off all premium and top shelf drinks, beer and house wines. Plus, there’s a bar menu of snacks like pizzas and Grandma’s meatball sliders that ranges from $6 to $11.
And the brunch looks enticing. This is a great place to take families, and the restaurant does made-to-order omelets and has a buffet and a carving station. It’s $19.95 per person from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.
Get over and try it. I’ll bet you’ll be as happily surprised as I was.