After the success of Sfoglia on Nantucket and then the Upper East Side [watch the video], Ron Suhanosky has returned to his downtown roots for his latest venture. Steps from nightspot Southside, Civetta, meaning "little owl" in Italian, is an ideal spot for the well-dressed night owls looking for small plates before heading to LES lounges. Recently, chef Suhanosky took a few moments to discuss what makes his restaurant stand out, what chefs he does, or doesn't, admire today, and the most valuable piece of advice he's learned in the kitchen.
Louise McCready: With this year's surge of new restaurants offering recession-friendly, Mediterranean-inspired, small plates, how do you plan to set Civetta apart or how do you see it as being different?
Same as we do at Sfoglia. We offer something that is very unique and sets us apart in Italian dining - that's service, casualness with the dÃ©cor and sort of rustic feel, and the food itself. Those are three things that will set us apart from other Italian restaurants.
How do you balance your time between two Sfoglias and now Civetta?
I usually spend the weekend in Nantucket - I go up Friday and come back Sunday. I spend the beginning part of the week at Civetta and then up to the Upper East Side's Sfoliga. Obviously right now, Civetta is taking up more of my time to make sure things are happening the way I want to.
Your cookbook, Pasta Sfoglia, is coming out next month [pre-order on Amazon]. Are any of the featured recipes appearing on Civetta's menu?
Maybe at some point, but Pasta Sfoliga is all about Sfoglia. Sfoglia relates to a sheet of uncooked pasta and the book leans more toward the dishes of pasta I do. We do have a few pastas on the menu at Civetta - one of them being our signature Bolognese that we serve up at Sfoglia - and every now and then we'll offer a special pasta dish, but Civetta's more about the antipasti, Italian tapas and not so much about the pasta.
If you had to pick just one, which dish on Civetta's menu would you recommend?
Of the antipasti, my personal favorite would be the panzerotti which are like little fried donuts that are filled with stuffed ham and mozzarella.What about top five indispensible ingredients?
I love using mostarda, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Right now I'm using sesame seeds a lot.
What is the most valuable piece of advice that you've learned in the kitchen?
How to use pasta water. It's an essential ingredient in every pasta dish. It helps with the marriage of the sauce and the pasta.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
Well, my great-grandmother with her traditions was the one who influenced me the most into becoming a chef. Someone who I respect very much is Marcella Hazan.
Any contemporary chefs right now that you find either intriguing or enjoy learning from?
Unfortunately, there's not. I'm kind of disappointed with what's out there these days. It's all about celebrities and I'm not really into that whole scene.
Anything else we should know about the restaurant?
We are serving our Sfoglia bread down here at Civetta.
For reservations visit OpenTable or call 212.274-9898.
Get more information about Civetta and Sfoglia on Savory Cities.