Portofino Ristorante wins over visitors with feasts of baked clams, slow-cooked pork loins, and tender sautéed chicken atop beds of pasta. Perched upon City Island's waterfront, the restaurant cultivates an atmosphere that, like a tractor christening, is simultaneously rustic and urbane. The patio gives diners a view of New York's skyline; the interior evokes the image of a banquet hall in an Italian countryside villa—maroon leather chairs, warm light descending from chandeliers, and walls decorated in a stucco-esque scumbling and murals of Mediterranean harbor scenes. Guests sup on shrimp stuffed with crab meat or sautéed broccoli raab in cozy candlelit booths, break bread in the Piccolo Room or banquet area, or toast goblets of wine at the tucked-away wraparound bar.
Although mambo 'taliano's mustard-yellow awning calls the eatery a "ristorante and piano bar," it's difficult to say which aspect has more influence. The chefs fully commit to the menu of traditional Italian staples by rolling pastas, curing Alaskan salmon, and making fresh mozzarella in-house. These sorts of touches add a homespun quality to dishes such as the spaghetti with pancetta and pecorino romano cheese, and the thin-pounded veal milanese with arugula and cherry tomatoes. To help prime palates, the appetizer selection features everything from marinated Sicilian olives to a shareable antipasto platter with cured meats and roasted vegetables. The aromatic herbs and the sight of diners enjoying meals at the outdoor patio help attract passersby, but so does the sound of live jazz emanating from the dining room. Solo pianists and ensembles aim to entertain patrons with soothing background melodies. Coupled with the sounds of spirited conversations, these performances help create a lively atmosphere where diners can comfortably enjoy a casual meal, a glass of wine, or an impromptu dance off.
For more than 40 years, chefs at the family-owned Villa Nova E. have been sticking to time-tested recipes and techniques to craft authentic Italian cuisine. They tuck cheese filling into homemade ravioli, douse veal and shiitake mushrooms in cognac sauce, and top sea-scallop scampi with an herb-and-white-wine sauce. Along with a gluten-free menu, chefs create a trio of catering menus built around buffets, brunch, and Sweet 16 parties, where each dish is cooked atop the engine of the guest of honor's new car. In-house meals unfold inside Villa Nova E.'s spacious dining room, or parties of up to 140 guests commence in two upstairs rooms.
The ovens at Lil Joe's Pizza And Pasta work long hours to cook up a menu full of Italian favorites. Pizza crusts are smothered with cheese and varied toppings such as chicken, broccoli, onions, pineapple, and sausage. Platters of veal and eggplant parmesan can be enjoyed on their own, or as part of a sandwich. Chefs simmer pots of Lil Joe?s signature spicy vodka sauce, and boil gnocchi, ravioli, and spaghetti to create classic Italian meals.