By Lucía Seda and Simone Somekh
There are plenty of Italian restaurants in New York. But how many of them offer authentic Italian cuisine? The answer is, very few. That’s not surprising since there is no one unified Italian cooking tradition; Italy is divided into 20 regions, each with its own culinary history.
Italian food in the United States is often an American reinterpretation of traditional dishes from Italy. But in recent years, a new generation of Italian chefs has come to New York with a challenge in mind: introduce the city to regional—and, they say, more authentic—Italian food.
Manhattan now offers a restaurant specializing in almost every Italian region, including Emilia Romagna (Gnocco), Sicily (Cacio e Vino), Calabria (Il Punto) and Piedmont (San Carlo Osteria), just to name a few.
Try two different regional dishes from Italy in our mouth-watering video stories: the piadina from Emilia Romagna and the pizza salsiccia e friarielli from Naples.
Piadina romagnola at Piada NYC, Midtown East
Video produced by Simone Somekh.
After Giovanni Attilio visited New York for the first time, he decided to quit his job at the University of Bologna and move to the States to open the first piadineria of Manhattan. New Yorkers discovered Romagna’s most popular street food, the piadina—a flatbread sandwich filled with cheese, cold cuts and vegetables—in Attilio’s store, Piada NYC. (There’s also a sweet version featuring Nutella.)
When Attilio and his colleagues opened a second location for Piada NYC in the Citicorp building in Midtown East, they were unlucky with the timing. It was 2009, and the global financial crisis had recently exploded. “People working in our building were leaving the offices with moving boxes because they were suddenly unemployed,” recalls Attilio. “For eight to nine months, it was really hard for us.”
Then a deal with Groupon, the internet company that partners with businesses to offer discounts and specials, brought hundreds of new customers into the store. Later, the Plaza Hotel asked Attilio to open a new store inside the hotel’s food hall.
Pizza salsiccia e friarielli at Ribalta, Union Square
Video produced by Lucía Seda.
There is the New York-style pizza that locals know and tourists seek when they first set foot in the Big Apple. Then there is the Neapolitan pizza with sausage, mozzarella and broccoli rabe that Pasquale Cozzolino makes in the kitchen of Ribalta, an Italian restaurant specializing in Neapolitan cuisine in Union Square.
Cozzolino, executive chef of Ribalta, teamed up with Rosario Procino, the former owner of Kesté, and together they opened a restaurant intending to perfect the art of pizza-making that they had been practicing for years. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“You get into a rush, into a mix of energy and, in our case, positivity that comes with the city,” says Procino of his experience managing a second restaurant in New York City. As with his first restaurant, Procino sources his ingredients from Italy and uses other local products in order to give his patrons—who range from Italian celebrities to soccer enthusiasts—an authentic tour of the region of Campania without crossing the Atlantic. Their success has been so marked that Ribalta now has a sister restaurant in Atlanta.
Yet, for Procino, the energy of New York City is hard to find elsewhere in the United States. He has enjoyed carving a space for Neapolitan food in a major cosmopolitan city and continuing that evolution.
“It’s like the dough that always ferments and rises. That is like the experience in New York. You never stop. You can never stop,” he says.
Photo: Courtesy of Aldo Soligno.