Food and Wine at Emilio Ristorante in Harrison, NY,
Get Better and Better with Age : John Mariani on Wine
John Mariani, a columnist for Esquire and the Wine Spectator, cookbook author, and contributor to some of the world’s best known publications travels the globe and writes a weekly e-newsletter covering food, wine, travel, notable restaurant openings and closings, trends, and news of note. A New Yorker from the Bronx’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, Mariani always features a New York Corner in his newsletter.
(John Mariani writes on wine for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.).
By John Mariani
Photos by John Porco, Integrated Enterprises Inc.
Perfection comes from repetition, and in the case of Emilio Restaurant in
Emilio--the fellow with the brochette on the menu cover at left--and Lidia Brasesco opened Emilio in 1979 in an old clapboard house, once a girl's school, dating to 1894, and from the start they distinguished Emilio from the cliché-ridden Italian restaurants of that time by offering a wider range of regional Italian dishes and an antipasto table of daunting diversity. As more quality Italian products came into the
Emilio passed away a few years ago, but his wife Lidia is still happily welcoming regulars at the door while her son Sergio--a man born to be a host--roams the dining room and, for the last three years, Chef Jeffrey Bruno (both shown below) does the cooking.
I hadn’t been back to Emilio for some years, so I wondered if the restaurant had perhaps slipped into complacency with the same old menu. I was delighted to find Emilio better than ever. The premises may be dated in design but are uncommonly warm and inviting, with a large, convivially lighted front dining room, a smaller one to the rear, two cozy alcoves and a semi-private room. Tables are widely separated, which allows for good conversation.
Sergio long ago committed to stocking the best Italian wine list in the county, comparable to the finest in
Sergio's enthusiasm brims over when speaking about wines to go with your food. After discussing the specials with our table of four and recommending certain dishes, he politely asked what price range of wines we wished to stay within. Then, rubbing his hands like a sorcerer, said, “I think I have something very unusual you’re going to like.” Moments later he returned with a bottle of Trebbiano d’abruzzo, which is a workhorse grape in
It was a delight with our appetizers, which included an array of those antipasti from a cart wheeled to our table. It was difficult to choose among the offerings, so Mr. Brasesco spooned up plates of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mushrooms, sweet-sour and spicy eggplant caponata, artichokes with sunflower oil and herbs, various sliced hams, and morsels of mozzarella and Parmigiano.
We then moved on to share spaghettini teeming with mussels, Littleneck clams, cuttlefish, and rock shrimp in a light, quickly made tomato sauce ($18 as a full portion, $9.50 as a half). One of the signature items here is a plate of panzerotti—“big bellied” pasta filled with housemade ricotta and Swiss chard served in a decadently rich walnut cream sauce ($19/$9.50). A delicate pasta crêpe wrapped spinach, ricotta, and veal, baked in a very authentic bolognese sauce with both meat and vegetables, with a lavishing of béchamel. Ravioli stuffed with shredded short ribs of beef ($16 and $9.50) was richer still.
Swooning a bit now, we went on to the main courses, going as somewhat more lightly with a menu with a lot of heft on it. A marinated pork tenderloin with porcini mushrooms and fresh tomato ($23.95) was a triumph of simple flavors, as was a whole baby chicken slowly roasted to retain succulence then given a sweet balsamic glaze scented with rosemary ($21). Scaloppini of sautéed veal came with sweet sausage, porcini and braised cabbage in a brandied cream sauce ($23.25). Filet of sole was applaudable for its Sardinian-style addition of raisins and pine nuts ($22.50), though that evening, at least, the fish was overcooked and falling apart.
With the meats Brasesco chose a rare Jermann Blau & Blau 2002 ($60), from
None of us needed dessert by then, but it was impossible to dispel Mr. Brasesco’s pleading to try one or two, maybe three. Most of the desserts are made by a neighborhood baked shop named CCG Patisserie.
Having returned after a long hiatus, I was happy to find Emilio surpassing what I remember of its food and service back in the 1990s. Indeed, after 27 years, Emilio is a rare restaurant that still shows even more promise.
Appetizers at dinner run: $6.50-$12 and main courses $18-$31.25.