I have 2 words for you: homemade mozzarella. You’ve never tasted fresh mozz like this before. Creamy, smooth, soft, delicate, salty, perfection drenched in good olive oil. It’s worth the price of the entire meal at Torrisi alone. Not that the other food isn’t worth it as well but man, that cheese has me salivating just thinking about it. Torrisi Italian Specialties is a tiny Italian restaurant on Mulberry St. in Nolita. It’s not an old school joint at all, it’s basically brand new, started by Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi. They serve sandwiches and antipasti during the day (expect a long line) and a $50 4 course prix fixe at night. The sandwiches are the italian staples: italian combo, chicken and eggplant parm, and the infamous turkey sandwich. Don’t let that fool you – these sandwiches are made the way an Italian grandma would make them. Their sauce on the chicken parm reminded me of my fathers and I can literally give no higher praise than that. As for dinner, they have 3 seatings a night and they do not take reservations. They start taking down names at 5:30 so be on line no later than 5:10 to make sure you get a spot. The menu changes every night and the only option you’ll have is the entrée (there are 2 choices). There are no substitutions, no changes made for dietary needs, so don’t bother asking. Check the menu on their website before you go. This meal will be eaten on their terms, not yours, but it’s totally worth it. They also don’t allow pictures so bear with me here.
Rick and I went to the first seating at 6:00 the other night, the night before the San Gennaro Festival started in Little Italy. The restaurant has about 20 seats, the walls are lined with cans of tomatoes and bags of pasta, it feels like an old school joint but it’s not. They start every meal with the mozzarella and slices of their garlic bread. The bread is crispy, buttery, garlicky but the mozz is the star. I could have happily eaten this the whole time I was there. Then we had fresh beets with sour cream and dill. The beets were earthy and sweet, the sour cream a perfect accompaniment. After that came scallop crudo with pickled broccoli rabe. While the dish was good, the scallop clearly very fresh, it was my least favorite of the night. It wasn’t bad, just didn’t pique my interest the way everything else did and I didn’t feel the broccoli rabe added much. The last antipasti was homemade pepperoni with an egg yolk on top. It was a play on steak tartar and it was delicious. The pepperoni was spicy, soft, and certainly not like any pepperoni you’ll find at the store. The egg yolk made it rich and creamy.
The pasta that night was linguine with little neck clams, a fairly traditional Italian dish. However, as with everything at Torrisi, they alter it just enough to make it modern and interesting. Usually, linguine alle vongole has red chile flakes to give it some heat but here they added Tabasco and real hot peppers. The dish is simple but the ingredients are superb and that’s what makes everything here so good. The pasta, the briny clams, the spicy peppers were so fresh and full of flavor that nothing else was needed to make this a standout plate of food.
The two entrée options were striped bass pickled green tomatoes or devils chicken with yogurt. Usually Torrisi will offer one seafood entrée and one meat entrée. I had the striped bass, which also came with some potatoes. The pickled tomatoes were salty and sour and gave the dish a good kick. The fish was perfectly cooked – flakey, sweet, and tender. However, nothing could compete with that chicken. Wow. Probably the best chicken I’ve ever had. It was so juicy and flavorful. It had just the right amount of spicy kick and the yogurt helped to cool it all down. Really an awesome plate of chicken.
Finally, the end of the meal is signaled by a little taste of italian ice as a palate cleanser. This time it was lemon. Best italian ice I’ve ever had. Remember those italian ices that came in the round yellow packages? And all you cared about was getting to the bottom where there was a layer of extra sweet ice? Yeah, it was like that only a hundred times better. Then they brought out a plate of homemade pastries. They had these sugar cookies with celery sugar on top. Savory and sweet and salty. A potent combination of delisiciousness. Then there were mini cannolis with their homemade ricotta. Mini cheesecakes and my childhood favorite rainbow cookies with the nutty flavor of almonds. All spectacular.
Torrisi deserves all of the publicity they’ve received. They make really excellent italian food with whatever is in season and they find ways to make it creative and new. There is nothing ordinary about this place. It’s worth waiting in line for…especially for that mozzarella.