NEW YORK — The fashion flock has a new boite. Da Giacomo, the legendary Milanese restaurant frequented by such luminaries as Giorgio Armani, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana and Sophia Loren, now has its very own New York outpost.
Situated in an elegant town house on East 64th Street, the eatery, which had a soft opening in mid-February, owes much to its Milan counterpart with virtually the same menu and exemplary service. In Milan, Giacomo Bulleri, his daughter, Tiziana Bulleri, and her husband, Marco Monti, are a constant presence in the restaurant, known for its fresh seafood and friendly service. At the New York outpost, co-owner Darrah Ferrari, progeny of fashion royalty herself (she’s Oleg Cassini’s niece, her mother designed under Marina Ferrari and her father owns Les Copains) and a member of the da Giacomo cognoscenti since she was eight, hopes to emulate their success.
Though it remains to be seen whether the quiet, opulent New York version, with its celadon walls, gold sconces, 19th century-style tiles and Murano chandeliers, will attract the same elite crowd that frequents the Italian parent (though Kal Ruttenstein, Gabriella Forte and Anne Hathaway have stopped by), Giacomo himself paid a visit — his first trip to New York — over Easter weekend and, as Ferrari put it, “He gave the blessing to the pizza on the first night.”
The pizza in question is a small amuse bouche given to evening diners in Milan, which Monti spent a month and a half perfecting here. Over a recent lunch of fritto misto, pasta and branzino, Monti, Bulleri and Ferrari seemed excited, though cautious, about the challenge of adapting da Giacomo for a picky American clientele. “Questa è un’enigma,” said Bulleri.
Even more of a mystery during the course of the lunch was the whereabouts of 80-year-old Giacomo, who was missing in action, wandering the streets of New York alone, without an American cell phone or a working knowledge of English to fall back on. After numerous attempts to reach him, the other three settled into a playfully combative banter that revealed the strong family foundation that accounts for the success of the restaurants.
Born in Tuscany, Giacomo began working in the restaurant business at 13. In 1957, he opened da Giacomo on Via Donizetti, which moved to a new Renzo Mongiardino-designed space 15 years ago. His daughter grew up working in the restaurant, and as such, she has plenty of stories to tell of its famous diners. In particular, she recalls a glorious night when three generations of Kennedys occupied a choice table and how she didn’t realize Kim Basinger was eating at the restaurant, at Armani’s table no less, until the designer’s chauffeur came in looking for her.
Ferrari, a Milan native, brought her Swedish restaurateur fiancé Rick Wahlstedt (he co-owns Le Colonial and L’Escale in Greenwich, Conn.) there this past September. He fell in love with it and Ferrari persuaded him to open a New York branch. After convincing the family their intentions were good, they brought on Jean Denoyer, co-owner of La Goulue and Orsay, as a partner and in record time, opened the Manhattan branch in February.
Upon his late arrival at lunch, Giacomo pronounced the new restaurant “Molto bello.” However, it is unlikely he will return again soon, because he is a crucial fixture at the Milan outpost. “The restaurant [in Italy] is very fast-paced,” he said. “The customers are very well taken care of. They like to feel pampered. It’s a personalized restaurant and once a restaurant is personalized, you’re screwed. You become a slave to it.”