Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Celebrity Karma Strikes Again

by EP

Xani and I haven't had the best of luck in our quest to meet celebrities.  Sure, we've hung out with Michael Midgley of Top Chef fame, and we saw Dennis Quaid at In N Out Burger in LA.  We also spied a handful of celebs when we were in NYC for Xani's birthday in February (ahem, Sandra Oh and Michael Imperioli -- not together), but for the most part, we repel celebrities, instead of attracting them.  Don't they know we're up and coming celebs ourselves?!

We thought, when we went to try Chazz: A Bronx Original, a new Italian-American restaurant in Harbor East, that our luck just might be turning around -- after all, one of the owners is Oscar-nominated Chazz Palminteri!

We arrived in the welcoming space on Aliceanna St., and unfortunately, our bad luck had struck again.  No Chazz (except in photos and movies playing on screens around the restaurant).  But, in place of producing a famous person, the friendly staff at Chazz provided us with a fantastic evening.

The space of Chazz is really cool, thoughtfully designed, and quite expansive.  The entrance is decorated with subway tile to emulate a famous Bronx subway station.  There's a formal dining room (where we ate); a "pizza altar," where patrons can sit at a bar setting and watch the experts make the Bronx-style pizza; a large U-shaped bar; an antipasti/salumi station; and a main dining room, decorated with murals of Bronx scenes from Chazz's childhood.  Sounds kind of cheesy but it's actually very well done.  In the corner of the main dining room is a plush round booth: this is Chazz's table. This is where he sits when he's in town.  And when he's not in town?  You can reserve it!

Now, onto the food: we started with two really lovely and refreshing cocktails -- a must-have after a 90+ degree day.


I ordered a peach-strawberry Bellini, and Xani ordered the Al Fresco, with strawberries and basil and some other booze we can't remember.  Both were excellent.

Then we started reviewing the menu.  A note about the menu: it's not quite finalized yet, so many of the items on the printed menu were not actually available; available items were printed in red font...sometimes.  Our waitress tried to clarify which things were and were not on the menu for the evening, but it was a little confusing.  Hopefully they will finalize the menu (and keep some of our favorites on it permanently!) soon so diners will know the whole story up front and so they can post it on the website for diners' pre-arrival menu perusal/drooling (what? you don't do that before you go to a restaurant?).

Anyway, we started with a handful of appetizers/smaller plates before getting into the pizza and pasta.  We started with the burrata with roasted red peppers, which was absolutely wonderful.


The cheese was soft and drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper, and the marinated roasted peppers were so fresh and flavorful.  We could have made a meal of this dish alone (but only if they brought us more crostini - there were only 3 little crackers for all that cheese!).

We also ordered the baccalao, a whipped salt cod with crispy capers, atop a few crostini and two squares of hot polenta.


This dish was good but not our favorite - the fish was pretty fishy and again, not a lot of crostini given the portion of the fish.  Surprisingly, the best part was the polenta - I would have liked a whole bowlful.

While not that exciting, one of our favorite dishes was the salad: arugula, pickled red onions, big shards of parmesan cheese, lightly tossed with a great vinaigrette.  An example that simple can be perfectly delicious.


The best appetizer-portion dish, however, was the veal meatball.


It was perfectly cooked, lovely texture, and really tasted of veal and not of some non-descript meat.  The lacrosse ball-sized meatball was covered with melted mozzarella cheese and swimming in a fantastic tomato sauce.  Again, we could have eaten a whole dinner of these guys!

Then it was time for the mains: we ordered a pizza and a pasta.  The pizza menu had about 8-10 pies listed, but only 4 were available (the clam one we were eyeing was unavailable but hopefully will make the final cut!).  We went for the pepperoni.  We were excited to try what's been billed as "Bronx-style pizza," and when the pizza came out fresh from their coal-fired oven, we knew we wouldn't be disappointed.


The pizza had a thin crust with a fluffy outer edge, not too crispy like a neopolitan-style cracker pizza.  It was a great pepperoni pizza, one of the best in the city for sure.  It was a hearty portion of a pie - a meal of a salad and a pizza would definitely be sufficient for 2 people.

Then we got our pasta dish (carbs, anyone??).  We ordered Spaghettoni all'Amatriciana, spaghettoni (thicker than spaghetti) in a spicy tomato sauce with guanciale.  This dish is a BCD family favorite that we often make at home (sometimes using pancetta or good old american bacon), so we have admittedly high standards for this dish.  That said, we were very excited to try the Chazz version of one of our faves.  The pasta arrived steaming and smelling great.


The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the sauce had great, spicy flavor.  Our only complaint is that it wasn't that bacon-y (a complaint we often make in life, generally speaking).  The pork flavor was so subtle, it might have been a spicy tomato sauce if you didn't know it was Amatriciana.  That said, it was a great bowl of pasta and we look forward to trying the rest of the pasta offerings -- and soon.

After all those dishes, we still found room for dessert.  A triumph, indeed.  Our waitress recommended we try the "Coffee and Donuts," which we obviously had to get.  It was a small cup of excellent espresso gelato, paired with a hearty serving of little chocolate donuts.

In addition, we ordered the Lemon Honey Ricotta Cheesecake, with a shortbread crust and blueberries.  The cheesecake was really fantastic - light and fluffy texture from the ricotta, nice lemon and blueberry flavors (a great combo), and a buttery, not-too-thick shortbread crust.  We also ordered espressos with dessert - a great digestif after all that amazing food!

So, in short, in case you've scrolled through this whole post just looking at pictures, here's the message I want to convey: Go to Chazz!  They have great food, a lovely and lively atmosphere, and good service.  This place was packed on a Wednesday night so clearly the word is out.  We've already made our next reservation, and this time, we're going to try to sit at Chazz's table -- perhaps even if he is in town, he'll join us?  That'd really boost our celeb-sighting stats!!

Buon appetito -


  1. I'm going tonight - so I probably shouldn't have read this first. But now I'm very, very hungry!

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