Archive for July, 2010

Ciao Bella

July 4, 2010


Ciao Bella is located at 1640 Second Avenue at 85th Street, and is open for dinner from Monday through Thursday from 5:00 – 12:00 AM, Friday and Saturday 5:00 – 1:00 AM, and Sunday from 5:00 – 11:00 PM, with Sunday brunch from 12:00 – 4:00 PM. Ciao Bella is also open for lunch on weekdays from 12:00 – 3:00 PM. Ciao Bella boasts ample sidewalk and balcony seating on its first and second levels, weather permitting, and its second floor is available for private parties and corporate functions. For more information on private parties and reservations, please call 212-794-9494 or visit


Ciao Bella: A Portal to La Dolce Vita

By Nancy Walman

Calling to mind the warmth and sophistication of the Italian spirit is newcomer to the Upper East Side, Ciao Bella, a restaurant specializing in all things Italian chic. The newest addition by Enrico Proietti, the longtime Italian restaurateur who boasts such East Side staples as Per Lei, Baraonda, and Bella Blu, Ciao Bella is a swanky, yet decidedly neighborhood-friendly, addition to a strong portfolio filled with over 30 years of restaurant successes. Now with former Per Lei chef, Fabrizio De Togni, recently taking over the kitchen, the food is being kicked up a notch to match the ultra-chic space and the posh crowd of Upper East Siders filling it.

The space, an airy bi-level locale on the corner of 85th and Second Avenue, boasts a festive and creative atmosphere that makes the perfect backdrop for Chef De Togni’s robustly flavorful food. With large floor to ceiling windows, ample amounts of natural light, and wraparound sidewalk seating, there’s no bad seat in the house. The colors of the decor reflect the restaurant’s energy—vibrant red tones color artfully arranged tiles on the side walls and bar, as well as the restaurant’s signature leather tray ceiling. Eclectic pop art by Warhol and Keith Herring hangs on the walls of both the main dining room and the second floor, which also features space for private parties and romantic balcony seating—all in all, the spacious restaurant and its hospitable staff capture the warmth of the Italian spirit and create the perfect dynamic atmosphere for its standout culinary offerings.

Ciao Bella’s strength lies in the harmonious partnership between owner and chef. Proietti’s desire to let his chefs flourish and explore their creativity has been one of his secrets to success in the past, and Chef De Togni relishes in his creative freedom. With 20 years of experience around the world to fuel him with limitless inspiration, De Togni has the perfect set of tools to hone Proietti’s vision.olive_oil

De Togni’s influences date back to his early youth, when he spent hours admiring his father’s confectionary work at the bakery he owned in the center of Milan. His career took off in the same city: he attended the CFP Vellesana Sondalo Culinary School and secured his first kitchen job as helper at La Greppia before working his way towards a position as Sous Chef of La Tradizionale, a regional fish and seafood restaurant.

De Togni’s professional pursuits then took him on a voyage around the world when he took on the responsibility of launching a branch of the famous Paper Moon in Istanbul, Turkey, a role that would lead him to cook in subsequent Paper Moon kitchens around the world, and eventually leading him to New York City. It was here that De Togni’s talents and Proietti’s entrepreneurial vision met paths; within two years of arriving, De Togni was whipping up signature dishes like Pappardelle Cocoa Duck Ragu that quickly propelled Per Lei to its vast popularity. Now at Ciao Bella, De Togni has used his worldwide experience to develop an unquestionably Classic Italian menu that’s sure to please.

Diners may begin with an array of De Togni’s signature crudis: tuna with avocado, Gaeta olives, and sesame seeds; salmon with avocado and cucumber; and a blue crab and mango ceviche with orange dressing. Carciofi alla Romana, or Pan-Fried “Burnt” Artichokes generously doused in Ciao Bella’s signature olive oil are dangerously addicting—the olive oil is available for purchase at the restaurant, and this dish makes it a real temptation. Those who stick to the classics will be pleasantly surprised by the Tortino di Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a variation of Eggplant Parmigiana served with 18 months aged Parma Ham. A house favorite, it’s the perfect example of how fatty, heavy dishes typically associated with Italian cooking can be lightened up and modernized, providing a perfect balance of sweet and salty.

The list of pastas and primi piatti is plentiful, though each requires extensive work—all pastas are made fresh in house. Risotto Carnaroli comes flavored with gorgonzola rather than parmesan; its strong flavor is perfectly counterbalanced by sweet apple chunks and earthy, spicy green peppercorn. Paccheri al Tonno Fresco, oversized rigatoni with fresh blue fin tuna, Gaeta olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs, are artfully prepared, while a regular special of Fettucine with Veal Shank dazzles with a non-tomato, non-cream based sauce that is a mysterious as it is satisfying.

Main courses are plentiful and well balanced, including a Saltimbocca Alla Romana, or Veal Scallopini with Parma Ham and sage, all served alongside roasted potatoes and spinach. The health conscious will find great pleasure in the Salmone Scozzese Organico, a grilled organic salmon served with baby bok choy and sweet peppers, all drizzled with a ginger-infused olive oil that adds a perfectly subtle hint of exoticism—it’s a perfect example of a healthy yet robustly flavorful dish. For a real treat, diners can opt for the Carre’d’Agnello, or American rack of Lamb, which is grilled rather roasted and served with eggplant, diced lemon, and a pignoli vinaigrette that lightens up the dish and adds a pop of unexpected flavor.

Dinner at Ciao Bella would not be complete without dessert, and all items are made fresh in house each day. A Millefoglie Espressa comes layered with puff pastry, cream Chantilly, strawberries, and a caramelized Porto wine sauce that adds a layer of sophistication to a comfort classic. The real showstopper is perhaps the simplest dessert—a Carpaccio d’Ananas, or Pineapple Carpaccio, which has been marinated over night with cinnamon and star anise and is served with lemon sorbet. Refreshing, unusual, and puzzlingly simple, it’s a dessert that’s not to be missed.

One of the factors contributing to the standout execution of the food is simply the quality of the ingredients that the restaurant uses on a day to day basis. Ciao Bella does not use purveyors; instead, the ingredients are sourced directly from farmer’s markets multiple times a week, emphasizing freshness and quality over convenience and cost. De Togni also goes out of his way to find unusual ingredients that are little known and difficult to find.

Following the same philosophy is Giorgio Manzio, Ciao Bella’s sommelier and recurring winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. He says of the wine program, “We may not carry every Pinot Grigio from Italy, but we make sure we carry all of the best ones,” emphasizing that it’s not how many bottles are in their cellar, but how good they are and what kind of value they provide the customer. A large majority of those bottles are Italian, with many strong choices in the $40 price range (a great bargain), while glasses are available from a wider geographic range in red, white, and champagne varieties. Keen to offer a bargain at any price point, even Manzio’s most high end wines, which range up to $9,000 a bottle, are significantly less expensive than at other restaurants, as Manzio sourced each bottle directly by auction to ensure the best price possible. Manzio’s list is organized cleverly by region rather than varietal—assisting in what he calls “pairing by analogy,” or geographical pairings between wine and food—and earning him another Wine Spectator award in Ciao Bella’s first year.


Copyright 2009 By Punch In International, All Rights Reserved



July 4, 2010



“Where Midtown Meets the Mediterranean”



ADDRESS: 303 Madison Avenue (bet.41st & 4nd Streets)

New York, NY 10017

LOCATION: Situated in the epicenter of midtown, a pleasant stroll from Times Square, the Theater District and Rockefeller Center, while just steps from Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library and Bryant Park.


TELEPHONE: (212) 878-6301

PROPRIETOR: Burak Karacam


MANAGER: Daryl Swetz


CHEF: Jason Avery

CO-EXECUTIVE Sezai Celikbas


DÉCOR: Cosmopolitan with a fashionably modern edge, which adroitly avoids any ethnic clichés with elements such as the massive wine rack dominating the northern perimeter. Walnut trimming envelopes the sienna, burnt orange, brown and gold hued palette, showcased on the dramatically striped banquette lining one wall and reflected by eye-catching convex mirrors. A casually swank vibe pervades, enlivened by the always-active open kitchen with its ten-foot long grill framed by a proscenium of hand-made ceramic, green and honey onyx panels. Anchoring the rear of the restaurant, it is balanced by the distinctive zebrawood bar accented with backlit honey onyx. In turn, the bar is paired with an inviting communal table composed of a single slab of exotic enterolobium, a tropical tree that stands 100 feet tall with trunk 10 feet in circumference. A draw at lunch and dinner, the sculpture-like table echoes the restaurant’s genial ambiance.

CUISINE: perra-table Drawing inspiration from the entire Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on Turkish cuisine, considered, one of the world’s three foremost examples of culinary art, along with French and Chinese. The menu showcases regional dishes, particularly those of Adana, one of Turkey’s most vibrant cities celebrated for its special meat and meze preparations. While authenticity is the guiding principle, some Western culinary concepts are integrated. This amalgamation is in the spirit of Turkish food itself, which evolved as a reflection of its origins in a country that served for centuries as the graphical junction of East and West.

Adana Style: An ancient technique practiced in its purist form at few restaurants outside of Turkey, Sezai Celikbas is one its internationally acclaimed masters. It starts with a surgically precise cleaning of a menu of meat cuts, leaving no bone sinew, muscle or organ residue whatsoever. The fat is likewise removed; then it and the meat are hand chopped with a “Pala” – a large, half-moon shaped mincing knife. The two are combined to re-marble the meat at a specific ratio to assure maximum flavor and massaged with a spice mixture.

After marinating for six hours the meat is hand pressed onto two-foot long skewers and grilled. The majority of the fat burns off having imparted its distinct taste characteristics, resulting in kebabs with a sensual, almost velvety mouth feel and a seductively spiced flavor.


DISHES: (Lamb Adana Above)

Appetizers:Meze” in the Eastern Mediterranean, these savory small plate dishes are typically served in groups – Pera offers 27 different choices:

Beef and Bulghur Tartar “Cig Kofte” – ground beef and spices hand massaged and served on bib lettuce cups

Soujouk Lollipops – spicy Turkish sausage slices on a stick
Eggplant & Tomato Timbale

Fried Artichoke Hearts – with smoked paprika yogurt sauce

Chicken Livers – in pomegranate sauce

Pastirma (air dried beef) Wrapped Feta-Stuffed Dates

Pidettes – fresh baked mini flatbreads – Turkish “pizzas” – with a choice of toppings including spinach & pine nuts and soujouk & kasseri (a sheep’s milk cheese popular in Greece and Turkey)

Salads: Traditionally the concept of salad as entrée or even a side is not embraced in the Eastern Mediterranean. Rather salads are meze. Presenting them on the menu as their own category is an example of Pera’s integration of Western culinary customs.

Pera-Style Tomato & Onion – cubed tomatoes, finely chopped onions and parsley, peeled walnuts in pomegranate-lemon dressing

Grilled Vegetable & Halloumi Cheese (a goat’s and sheep’s milk cheese originally produced in Cyprus) – eggplant, zucchini, tomato and peppers with oregano olive oil and grilled halloumi

Entrees: Lamb Adana – hand-chopped and marinated select cuts of lamb served with house made lavash flatbread and garnishes


Oven Roasted Monkfish – grilled calamari, black olives and sea beans

Chicken Brochette – spice fire-roasted tender cubes of marinated chicken

Filet Mignon Medallions – center cut Angus wrapped in pastirma

Sizzling Lamb Minute Steak – a cut innovated by Pera, marinated, served with wild arugula, roasted peppers and Bulgarian feta

Desserts: Shredded Kadaifi “Kunefe” – molten cheese center, honey syrup and kaymak

Baklava – peeled Turkish pistachios and light syrup

Warm Semolina Dome – cinnamon, pine nuts and hidden ice cream

PRODUCTS: Mediterranean Meats-To-Go – a selection of signature meat preparations seasoned and vacuum packed, including lamb and chicken Adana and the feta stuffed lamburger.

AT THE BAR: Classic cocktails with Mediterranean inflection courtesy of fresh fruit purees of apricot, pomegranate and blood oranges. Imaginative signature cocktails such as the Blood Orange Gimlet – Tanqueray Rangpur Gin, Fresh Blood Orange Puree and Lime – and Apricot Margarita – Don Julio Blanco Tequila, Apricot Puree, Agave Nectar and Lime Juice take tasty riffs timeless favorites. The exceptional range of Scotch, including J&B Jet (seldom seen in the U.S.) is complemented by four rakis and two other rare libations, Patxaran – a Spanish sloe berry liqueur and Ursus – a sloe berry vodka particularly popular in the Greek isles during summertime.

Physically the bar area is conducive to gatherings as is the Wine & Meze Afternoons program – choice of three meze and a bottle of wine – for $39, available Monday thru Saturday until 7 p.m.


PROGRAM: Walls upholstered with wine racks is indicative of its significance. Offering more than 80 selections, including 11 half bottles (another 15 by the glass), the

internationally sourced list is a thoughtful balance of new and old world viniculture, while showcasing a number Greek, Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish wines. The presence of varietals, such as Malbec, Grenache and Sangiovese are testimony to the list’s worldly sensibility, as are high end offerings including: 2004 Arista, Ferrington Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2005 Michel Torino “Chichos,” Malbec / Merlot, Salta, Argentina.

AWARDS: OpenTable Diners’ Choice, Mediterranean
Among Top 5 Newcomers for 2008 Zagat Survey

TimeOut New York Eat Out Awards 2007 – “Best Steak Tartare” for the beef and bulghur meze and “Best Midtown East Restaurant”

HOURS: Lunch: Monday – Friday 11:30 am to 3:30 pm

Bar: Monday – Friday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm

Saturday 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm

Dinner: Monday – Saturday 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm

PRICING: Lunch salads and sandwiches start at $11, with meze from $4 to $11 and entrees $19 to $31.

The Bar Menu offers meze from $4 xxx, entrees and sides $6 to $27, including Pera’s lamburger stuffed with feta, olive and roasted tomato, served on house baked roll with Mediterranean fries and house make pickles shish.

On the Dinner Menu, mezes range from up to $20 ($22 for chef’s sampler for two), salads are $11 to $15, entrees $19 to $45 for The Pera Tradition, chef’s multi-course tasting menu.

Sides are $6 to $11, desserts $8 to $14 for the Mediterranean Cheese Plate – eggplant jam, truffle honey.

Pre-Theater Dinner Menu – three courses at $35, for diners wishing to leave by 7:30.


FUNCTIONS: A private dining room accommodates up to 28 and is equipped with LCD TV, wireless Internet, conference call capability and dedicated audio system.

The entire restaurant is available for gatherings of as many as 150 seated or 300 standing.







TOTAL: 160

MUSIC: Live classic, world and Latin jazz Saturday evenings from 7:30pm to 10:30pm.

Pera’s custom-mixed CDs of contemporary, vintage and folk stylings from throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.


CATERING: Available throughout the tri-state area, casual barbeques to sumptuous wedding feasts.

Pera’s staff will also deliver and set-up for serviced meals for eight or more.

TAKE-OUT: Pera Direct offers favorites from the lunch and dinner menus for pick-up or delivery, packaged in environmentally responsible recycled materials.

CREDIT CARDS: American Express, MasterCard and Visa.

RESERVATIONS: Available. Please call (212) 878-6301 or make reservations through




By Nancy Walman

Raising the bar for New York’s growing crop of Eastern Mediterranean-centric restaurants, Pera resonates with a singular panache in terms of setting and food. While the former is stylishly contemporary, the latter is steeped in the historic ingredients, traditions and techniques (primarily) of Turkey, infused with New York gustatory flair. With its special focus on grilled meat and seafood, Pera’s can be characterized – again, ambiance and menu – as being akin to the city’s top steakhouses, albeit one with an Eastern Mediterranean sensibility and more moderate pricing.

Rated a “Top 5 Newcomer” by Zagat Survey 2008, Pera Mediterranean Brasserie presents authentic Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, interwoven with some New York gustatory flair, by co-executive chefs, Sezai Celikbas of Istanbul’s internationally renowned Kosebasi and Jason Avery, previously at the former Regent Wall Street hotel. As such, Pera is New York’s first restaurant to offer cuisine firmly rooted in ancient – primarily Turkish – traditions and techniques, which incorporates some Western contemporary culinary trends without compromising the integrity of the food and to do so with panache in a cosmopolitan setting.

Designed by Melissa Brown, Pera’s interior balances warm earth tones and natural materials with the vibrant colors of Mediterranean cuisine. Burnt orange, golden brown and deep green accents, a variety of rich woods – walnut for the walls and exotic zebrawood for the bar – onyx and alabaster panels and ceramic tiles are among the standout design elements. A long communal table sets the stage for larger parties and gatherings. The furniture, also designed by Brown, is similar in spirit to the restaurant’s cuisine – inspired by the East but adapted for New York. Each piece is handcrafted and sits low to the floor, creating a relaxed Eastern aesthetic. Brown effectively lowered the ceiling to make the large, elegant space more intimate by hanging two palas (traditional curved knives, unique to Turkey) made of sheetrock and covered with duchess satin.

The first venture from Burak Karaçam of BK Restaurant Partners, LLC, whose family has owned and operated successful restaurants in Turkey, Pera derives its name from an elegant Istanbul neighborhood that has been a melting pot for many cultures and cuisines since the 17th century. The executive chefs lead a team of specialty cooks from Turkey, collaboratively introducing lesser-known regional dishes and meat preparations to the New York audience. Their menu features more than 25 mezes (small plate appetizers) fashioned to encourage sharing and grilled meats, chicken and seafood, complemented by traditional and modern Mediterranean side dishes, as well as provincial breads baked on-site daily, some à la minute. Vegetarian preferences are addressed by some 24 meze, salad, main course and side dish options.pera-chef1

Signatures mezes include: roasted whipped eggplant dip, soujouk (spiced Turkish beef sausage) lollipops; fabulous fried artichoke hearts and baby sweet peppers; beef and bulghur tartar, lemon-dill marinated sea bass, pastirma (air dried cured beef) wrapped feta-stuffed dates and  wonderful pidettes (mini Turkish flatbreads) topped with a choice of traditional options such as fire-roasted eggplant, ground seasoned lamb or kasseri, the sheep’s milk cheese that is a Greek and Turkish culinary favorite.

The main courses focus on various cuts of delicately marbled meats cooked on a 10-foot open flame grill. Pera’s hand ground lamb and chicken dishes seasoned with proprietary blends of Mediterranean spices are a restaurant hallmark, reflecting Chef Celikbas’s roots in Adana, Turkey known for this singular approach to such preparations.PERRA-MEZZA

The Best Artichokes

Karaçam believes Pera adds another dimension to New York’s culinary landscape by offering a new level of authenticity for Mediterranean cuisine served in a warm, stylish setting. Pera, with its excellent service, distinguished wine list and exception food, is New York’s most inventive Turkish restaurant and rates A Major on The Walman Report.

Copyright 2009 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved



July 4, 2010



50 Commerce Street

Open for dinner Monday-Saturday from 5:30 to 11pm. Sunday brunch begins on November 9, from 11:00 to 4:00pm. For reservations, call 212-524-2301.

Great Things Come In Small Packages

By Nancy Walman

For those who don’t know it, the quiet, curved street that gently comes to abend at 50 Commerce Street holds a pleasant surprise, a beautiful historic relic of old New York, lovingly restored with a focused attention to detail. For those who knew the address as Blue Mill or Grange Hall, or even those who know it now as Commerce, there are even more pleasant surprises inside: food that continues to live up to expectations, no matter how high the bar is set.

While the atmosphere is purposely casual and convivial, the cuisine is stellar. Yet, it’s not the fussy food one might expect from Chef/Owner Harold Moore, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of Montrachet, Jean-George’s Mercer Kitchen and Daniel. Instead, Chef Moore and co-owner Tony Zazula (founder and owner of Montrachet) have decided to bring a high level of cooking in an approachable manner to a truly comfortable setting. Through their years of experience, the two owners began to understand what diners today were looking for—a direct and unintimidating dining experience with top-notch food in a comfortable environment and at a reasonable and moderate price.

The menu at Commerce consists of items that are familiar, but not ordinary, and continue to surprise with the brightness and boldness of the flavors, the freshness of the ingredients and the brilliance of the combinations. For example, the fresh marinated hamachi ceviche will brighten your palate with the flavors of yuzu, chili and cilantro.

Even when the dishes are homey, comfort foods, the technique and flavor supersedes the typical preparations. This is a place where everything is done the old-fashioned way. From baking the marvelous varieties of bread in-house (soft pretzels rolls, olive bread, ciabatta, brioche, etc.) to butchering the meat and preparing terrines from scratch, Chef Moore is heavily tied to tradition.

Cooking relies on manual skills, he says, but it ties into memory, too. Every meal at Commerce recalls a memory and a respect for tradition.

The duck and foie gras rillettes terrine with black cherry shallot jam is an unforgettable way to start your meal. The fall vegetable fricassee with truffles and poached egg is almost impossibly delicate.

At Commerce, the focus is on making simple things very well. Hence, the selection of dishes prepared for two evoke comfort food, but elevate it to another level entirely. If possible, go with a group and try either the perfect whole roasted chicken for two served with foie gras bread stuffing and potato mousseline is tender, juicy and delicious or the superb leg of milk fed lamb for two, with a surprising accompaniment of sweet peas and ricotta agnolotti, may be the most tender and delicious lamb you ever tasted (served for 3).

As for the individual entrees, some patrons are already addicted to the spaghetti carbonara with black pepper and coddled egg yolk, while others wouldn’t want to do without the spice roasted lobster with gingerbread and squash. Everyone should be able to find something they like on the Commerce menu. Market specials change weekly, incorporating the freshest seasonal ingredients available.

Desserts are a perfect fit for the menu and the scene. They include a stunning chocolate hazelnut mille feuille with a shiny layer of chocolate on top, with hazelnuts and salty caramel; roasted pineapple cheese cake; familiar desserts to share such as dark chocolate soufflé (with a touch of passion fruit crème anglaise); and a classic apple “tarte tatin” served with a trio of ice creams. And let’s not for get the beautiful cheeses and condiments

Chef Moore serves as mentor to his staff, recreating the experience of how he was trained by Daniel Boulud and other chefs and paying homage to his mentors. Tony Zazula brings over 30 years of experience as a restaurateur to the table with the same fresh enthusiasm he had when he first started out. Zazula oversaw the entire restoration, creating a space that gleams like new while evoking the history of the landmark building. The interior design included installing an original antique Brunswick bar circa 1941, hand-crafted sconces, subway tiling in the bar area, and marble mosaic columns in the dining room, and restoration of the original terrazzo floors. The seating includes booths restored by a carpenter who does theatrical movie sets with chestnut leather, and tables with handmade black walnut wood tops. Recently, two new murals by David Joel in a style reminiscent of Diego Rivera were added to the dining room. They depict the tale of two sisters, “A Common Ground for Sisters’ Story” whose sea captain father bought them the adjoining townhouses across the street from Commerce, with a common garden connecting the two properties in the hope of bringing the feuding sisters together.

Commerce, like Blue Hill, is one of those extraordinary New York restaurants that recall the exuberance and dedication of the perfect Parisian bistro, yet the food is decidedly American, local and pristine. The service is benevolent and the wine list is a joy. A bit hard to find, just tell your taxi to stay on Commerce St. past the Cherry Lane Theater and you’ll be well rewarded.

That’s A Major On The Walman Report. A real must!

Copyright 2009 By Punch In International. All Rights Reserved.