SITES FOR BITES
Jeff and Joyce Persily are sticklers for tradition.
The husband-and-wife team has recruited Joel Cimineri, the great-nephew of Anthony “Totonno” Pero, who was one of the first restaurateurs to bring a brick oven for pizza cooking to New York in 1924.
Back then, Totonno imported his tomatoes from Italy and handmade the mozzarella. While that tradition continues in the first restaurant, which still stands in Coney Island, the family recipes have been passed on and now, you no longer have to travel far to get it.
Totonno’s is a bright, well-lit open space with terra-cotta floors, sponge-painted walls, a finished-wood bar, an open kitchen and a more upscale ambience than a traditional pizza joint.
“It’s all about old-school cooking,” Jeff Persily said as he ate his oversized portion of homemade linguine with traditional marinara sauce. “We import our tomatoes from Italy and make the cheese and dough daily. We do it how they did it back in the day.”
The brick ovens heat up to 750 degrees, and the pizza menu includes Margherita (mozzarella, tomato, grated cheese and oil), Bianca (mozzarella, garlic, grated cheese and oil) and Neapolitan (tomato, garlic, oregano and oil). Pies range from $12.50 for a medium to $14.50 for a large, not including a choice of eight toppings ($2 each).
As for the ice cream, the Persilys travel more than 500 miles to insure that their concoctions do not contain any preservatives, bringing in cream from Massachusetts for their homemade gelato.
While Totonno’s does not take reservations, those who are averse to crowds should arrive early — it’s bustling with a hungry young crowd by 8 p.m. every night.
1544 Second Avenue; (212) 327-2800
If you’re looking for something totally outrageous with dinner, then a visit to La Nouvelle Justine will be a treat — or at least worth a good laugh.
The husband-and-wife team of Hayne and Robert Jason — the owners of Lucky Chang’s, the infamous drag club/Chinese restaurant — opened the restaurant with a theme of — brace yourself — bondage.
The open-minded should order off the specialty menu, where choices include a spanking, a foot massage or “bad doggy fare in the dog house” (i.e., a dog dish in a prison) for $20.
In the dark room with soft red lighting there is sure to be someone sitting in a high chair, being fed like a baby (also an extra $20). With metal cages as decoration and a 9 p.m. S&M demonstration with a mistress and a slave, the space has the sadistic feel of some forbidden den where they also happen to play cool music.
But La Nouvelle Justine isn’t about hardcore pain. Although you may see a mistress/waitress dragging a patron on a leash, yelling “Bark!” and “Roll over!” the scene is more of a sarcastic joke, and if you want, you can be the butt of it.
Drinks are named after sexual fetishes and the half-naked, leather-clad, chain-wearing staff serve up French cuisine that’s surprisingly good — so you won’t lose your appetite when the dominatrix starts her whippings.
The “regular” menu includes confit of duck over frisse shallot raspberry vinaigrette ($6.95) and salmon tartare with capers and lemon horseradish sauce ($6.95) as appetizers and grilled chicken breast stuffed with herbed goat cheese frisee, radicchio and bell pepper salad ($15.95) and grilled mahi mahi over wild mushrooms rosemary roasted pepper ragout ($18.95) as entrees.
Nouvelle Justine is open from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. nightly and until 4 a.m. on Saturday. There’s a “Leather Boy Brunch” on Saturday and “Naughty Religion Brunch” on Sunday.
206 West 23rd Street; (212) 727-8642
With Indian traditions now firmly planted in the mainstream, Akbar, an authentic Mogul Indian restaurant, is out to offer more than just curry.
Akbar’s serene atmosphere seems far removed from the noise and traffic just outside the doors. The gold and red space is filled with the soothing sounds of tabla drums and stained glass images of Muslim figures and sari-wearing women, while the furnishings are trimmed with hand-carved gold and geometric shapes.
The menu includes chicken pakora, succulent chicken fingers lightly fried in a mildly spiced yogurt batter, and aloo tikke, potato patties prepared with celantro and mild spices, as appetizers.
Among the entree choices are tandoori specials, like the jumbo prawns roasted in a tangy marinade of carom, fresh crushed garlic and roasted herbs, lamb specials such as lamb cooked in an Indian wok with chopped onions, garlic, and spices, and vegetable specials, including freshly grilled eggplant, mashed and sauteed with chopped tomatoes and onions.
On average, dinner costs $35 per person, but be sure to bring more because you might want to have your cards read or leave with an intricate temporary tattoo.
Every Thursday and Friday night, tarot card reader Mark Van Sickle shuffles from table to table, fortune-telling for 30 to 40 minutes per person for $20.
Saturdays are taken by the Mehndi Project, a group of Indian artists who have perfected the tradition of henna body painting, traditionally used for ceremonial rituals and medicinal cures. This form of temporary body art lasts two to three weeks, and prices depend on the amount of detail.
475 Park Avenue; (212) 838-1717
With a brand-new chef and menu, Flowers is blossoming anew.
Four years since it was planted, the one-time hip-hop hot spot has grown into an upscale multicultural melting pot. The trilevel space is equipped with a mod tapas lounge/bar downstairs, a shabby-chic dining hall — usually reserved for big parties — on the second floor and a foliage-filled garden on the roof deck for a more romantic meal.
The Chelsea restaurant’s American/Castilian cuisine, created by Spanish-born chef Antonio Maroto, formerly of “21,” offers an array of choices. The tapas lounge has clams in white and garlic sauce ($6) and salted bacala with pineapple, tomato and raisins in beer dough ($6).
Upstairs, the selection ranges from appetizers such as tuna tartare with marinated sliced cucumber and wasabi ($11) to tequila-marinated salmon with frisee salad, dill sauce and pastry brick ($10), and entrees include Mediterranean rubbed loin of pork with truffle whipped potatoes, haricots verts, port wine sauce and mustard seeds ($24) and pan-roasted Chilean sea bass with shaved fennel salad, basil, orange, kalamata olives and a beet-horseradish sauce ($22).
The decor also varies. The ground level sports funky, cushy seating and a big yuppie Happy Hour scene, geared for light bites and late night snacking. Upstairs, the more classic appeal of flickering candles, rustic wood furnishings and exposed-beam ceilings kicks in at the sleek, upscale bar. The roof deck may be the hottest place to dine — literally. A cross between a greenhouse and an outdoor cafe, the marble tabletops and wooden benches are surrounded by trees, flowers and ivy.
21 West 17th Street; (212) 691-8888