So far, 2021 has been a big year for Italian chef Antonio Salvatore. First came a Michelin star for La Table d’Antonio Salvatore au Rampoldi, his intimate five-table gourmet eatery in the former cigar lounge of Monaco’s historic Franco-Italian restaurant, Rampoldi. Now Salvatore — along with the backing of the Monte Carlo Hospitality Group — has set his sights stateside, opening his first US restaurant: Casa Limone, in Manhattan.
Just a stone’s throw from Rockefeller Center, Salvatore’s US debut leaves the Monegasque and French influences of Rampoldi at the door. Casa Limone is all about the bright and brimming flavors of southern Italy. Paying homage to the Mezzogiorno cuisine he was reared on in the region of Basilicata and its ingredient-rich neighbors, the young chef aims to transport the sights, smells and tastes of his homeland to East 49th Street.
A casual yet elegant atmosphere awaits diners within the two-story eatery; a strong start to the Monte Carlo Hospitality Groups’ US expansion. Not content to stop at Casa Limone, the group is set to revamp New York’s Atlantic Grill and launch Rampoldi New York in 2022, where Salvatore is also set to play a leading role.
With this in mind, Casa Limone gives us a hint of what’s to come over the next 18 months. So what can guests expect from the new southern Italian eatery?
Salvatore’s training started as a child in his family’s kitchen and vegetable garden in Basilicata, giving him an innate passion for fresh Italian produce. It’s something that the 34-year old chef has carried with him throughout his short but impressive career. “To be able to present versions of the dishes and ingredients I grew up eating, to a world-class city like New York, is a career highlight and we look forward to welcoming everyone to Casa Limone,” says Salvatore.
Many of the ingredients — from the salami and cheese to the tomatoes — come straight from southern Italy. However, Salvatore integrates a healthy helping of local seasonal produce from New York, creating a fresh and authentic menu that caters from breakfast and brunch through to aperitivo hour and dinner.
The generous menu reads like a gastronomic food tour of Italy’s South; burrata from Puglia, fresh wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza and classic Polipo al Luciana (octopus stew from the Santa Lucia district of Naples); Sicilian-stye timballo (baked pasta with aubergine) and Basilicata’s signature Agnello alla Lucana — a traditional lamb dish from Salvatore’s home region.
Particular highlights include Carpaccio di polpo (Octopus carpaccio served with rocket) and the Polpettine della Nonna Rosa (traditional meatballs).
Casa Limone’s dessert options are indulgent, with house-made gelato, cannolo filled with ricotta and pistachio, cassata siciliana and the classic favorite, tiramisu, all making appearances.
Italian cocktails including Negronis and Aperol Spritz grace the drinks menu along with new offerings using Italian flavors such as the refreshing Sgroppino al Limone — a heady mix of prosecco, vodka, mint and lemon sorbet. Like the food, the wine list remains firmly in southern Italy, with a handful of alternatives from beyond the region to chose from.
From the antique lemon-yellow Vespa that greets diners at the entrance through to the streetscapes depicting village life decorating the walls, Casa Limone aims to transport travel-starved New Yorkers on a trip to Italy’s sunkissed south, albeit for a couple of hours.
The ground floor features a 17-seat white marble bar with vivid blue velvet seats and high-top tables. This is adjoined by a more intimate brightly-hued dining area, featuring a flowered lattice that allows diners a peek into the kitchen. On the second floor, guests enter under a pergola of climbing vines and hanging flowers. The walls are lined with mirrored displays filled with colorful bottles of limoncello and artisan-crafted ceramic plates with typical Sicilian patterns. For Manhattan, this is just the right amount of la dolce vita.