First Taste: Zanaro’s in White Plains

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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!

Really delicious.

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.

The 411 on Zanaro’s.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

10 Comments

  1. We ate here at Restaurant Week and really enjoyed it.
    Glad you gave it a second chance!

  2. I might have to go to try the pizza purgatory. But the pastas look oversauced, which is typical of mediocre Italian American restaurants.

  3. Rinku Bhattacharya on

    We actually tried their Sunday brunch. It was actually a lot of fun. One of the highlights was a chocolate fountain.
    Lots of good custom made eggs, carving station, pasta, and friendly wait staff.

  4. Thanks Liz,
    I had also had a bad experience there several years ago and swore it off, but after the Crains review, we decided to give the place another chance. We ate there last week with 8 friends and we had one of our most memorable experiences. Then again on Sunday for brunch. It was AMAZING, Chef Joe D was Fabulous, we asked him to do a 6 course tasting OMG..I don’t know what Jan R is talking about oversauced pasta, ours included 2 pasta courses that were the best we ever had, there’s a reason they received 3 Stars and it was obvious in the food we tasted. I never had a Chocolate Souffle Omelet before (moaning the whole time), I want it as part of my last meal on earth!!!

    We are now part of the converted.

    Jules & Manny

  5. Hey Liz!!!
    I was so happy to read your review. My husband is the Ultimate Italian and he would not even consider Zanaro’s after a bad experience there last summer. We went Friday after our neighbors assured us it was different. Wow, my husband was elated with the “Grandma’s Sunday Sauce”, it reminded him of his Mom’s as a child. I had the Pasta Fagioli and it was so sophisticated, we ordered one to go. What was most impressive is the prices, who would of thought right here in our backyard, Zanaro’s is surely better and we will be great supporters..

  6. So does this mean they’re no longer owned by the Apple Metro group that owns Applebee’s in Westchester and some of NYC? Or they just brought someone else in as a partner to get it above Applebee’s level?

  7. Bill, they are owned by Apple-Metro. The owner, Zane, may be a millionaire but he started off as a busboy and is a very down-to-earth, no-nonsense kind of guy. He is so committed to Zanaro’s that he comes in twice a week, speaks with the kitchen and waitstaff, walks around, and has a meal– he once said “Even if my other restaurants go down the drain, even if I lose every penny I have in the process, Zanaro’s is going to be one of the best Italian restaurants in New York.” And he obviously meant it. He closed the restaurant for almost a week to perfect the menu and re-train (imagine the profit he lost?), and brought in an expert chef. I don’t work there anymore and I don’t gain anything from saying this, but it is insane to me that people would go to Antipasti or Via Quadronno when they can get delicious food at Zanaro’s for so much less.

    P.S.: Liz, you’re right, the bartender’s name is Kris. He’s a good guy.

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