Back in 2009, there was a restaurant that just epitomized everything good about NYC. This was the joint of two up-and-comers, Mario Carbone and Rich Torissi, eponymously named Torrisi. All we can say is: What a difference a decade makes. Thankfully, the restaurant that started it all has returned. Torrisi Bar & Restaurant is back.
I’m proudly aging myself here, but back in 2009, I remember when Torrisi Italian Specialties was a sandwich shop on Mulberry Street. I also remember that it became a restaurant in the evening, which represented why NYC was so damn special. First, Torrisi was a tiny boîte of a spot: less than 20 tables, crammed in close. There were no celebrity architects or designers; the walls were lined with Italian canned goods. The lighting made everyone look good, and dinner was served late. Those were the days where 10pm was a standard-issue dinner.
The original Torrisi was effortless; it had a small blackboard menu of fewer than a dozen items on any given night. One of the stars was always the fresh mozzarella, made to order and served warm with garlic bread. It really didn’t matter what you ordered though; it was always going to be outstanding Italian food. The chef, who was an unknown at the time, made magic. Torrisi was my favorite restaurant in NYC until it closed in 2015.
What a Difference 12 Years Makes
What I didn’t predict is what an empire Torrisi would become over the course of the next 12 years, under the Major Food Group umbrella. Today their restaurants are my favorite, led by The Grill in the Seagram building in Midtown. When I heard that Torrisi was reopening in the old Chef’s Club space in the Puck Building, it was like an opportunity to see an old friend again. I was pumped, and loved the restaurant before I even stepped in the door.
Gone is the original Torrisi, and in its place is a glamorous, grown-up NYC restaurant. The previous space of Chef’s Club, with its open kitchen and large bar, was already beautiful. Unlike Carbone, where you’re tucked away in various rooms, Torrisi has a more open space, so you can take in the full scene. The kitchen as well as the large marble bar remain part of the open floor plan. What I especially liked about the bar seating was the comfort. You’re not relegated to a backless seat on a tiny stool. Instead, there are proper leather bar chairs where you could linger all night. However at the moment, due to demand, you have about 90 minutes to two hours hours to hang at the bar per seating. I would say that atmosphere in the new Torrisi experience is a 9.5 out of 10.
The night I went to Torrisi, the menu reflected who Major Food Group is today. There was no mozzarella on the menu (that’s OK; I can get it at the more casual Parm nowadays). Instead, there were over 20 dishes, and you can feel the care that’s put into each. We ordered the Cucumbers New Yorkese, which the bartender told us would be the best cucumbers we’d ever have. They actually were; I don’t think I’ve ever had cucumbers that crisp or flavorful. We also had the charred clam boule, which were de-shelled clams in rich garlic, butter, and herbs, served atop bread. I liked it but I could not have eaten the entire dish myself. Instead I would suggest sharing it with a friend.
Speaking of bread (which is the foundation of Major Food Group’s meals), the comp basket is gone at Torrisi. That doesn’t mean that I missed it. It was actually nice not filling up on carbs, as I rarely resist the temptation of a Major Food Group bread basket.
Catch the Menu, If You Can
The menu turns over quickly, so a number of dishes we tried have been already modified. The stracciatella soup, which is a personal favorite, was a chicken version when I visited; today’s it’s made with crab. The Dover sole was a Francese preparation, and it was perfectly executed. Pastas were all solid, of the quality that you would expect from Major Food Group.
The food was good, but it wasn’t the highlight of the experience. In a vacuum, by itself, the meal is solid but not mind-blowing. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by The Grill and my many years of following Major Food Group everywhere. That’s not to say I wouldn’t return here over and over again, as I loved the space and vibe. I also really liked the complimentary Italian ice they served in old-school paper cups. It was the perfect dessert for someone who, like me, doesn’t like dessert.
I have nothing but good things to say about the service, from the somewhat intimidating doorman at the front who was a sweetheart, all the way to the servers. The point is, for a place that’s this scene-y, people are nicer and more approachable than at Carbone and The Grill. If I lived closer, I would probably be a regular.
Overall: 7.9/10. It would take no arm twisting to return to Torrisi. We’re crossing our fingers that this time, it’s here to stay.
Q: What are Torrisi’s hours?
Q: Does Torrisi take reservations?
A: Yes, but they are near impossible to get. Get on Resy and pray for the best, as with many of the Major Food Group restaurants. You’ll have some luck the day of though for later reservations in the 10pm range. You can also walk-in to eat at the bar, which is usually packed during prime dining hours.
Q: Is Torrisi good for kids?
A: Well that depends on your kids. Torrisi is a glamorous NYC restaurant. If your kids can hang, by all means bring them. Otherwise this is an adult environment.