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Pasquale II revitalizing just in time for spring
By Jananne Abel
Owner Frank Di Rende makes a drink at the bar, one of his many roles.
The main dining room at Pasquale II Ristorante in Port Chester looks bigger than it actually is because a mirror covers the far wall.
Spring has finally sprung with its daffodils, tulips, flowering trees and warmer temperatures. It's a wonderful time of year for restaurants like Pasquale II at 2 Putnam Ave. which is set in a garden with flowering trees overhanging the red brick patio and flower beds as well as potted plants encircling it. Located near the Greenwich border across from Carvel, it's one of the nicer places in town to dine outside.
Spring couldn't have come soon enough for owner Frank Di Rende, who said he's got Communion parties booked for the next few weeks followed by Mother's Day. There was both a Communion party and a baby shower taking place at Pasquale II Ristorante the Sunday I snapped my photos.
"It's a good time of year," Di Rende admitted, "but it can't really make up for the last four months."
After almost 17 years, Pasquale has built up a reputation for consistency in its fine Italian cuisine at reasonable prices. "We try to provide consistent food and quality," Di Rende said. The restaurant still has many regular customers, but instead of coming in a couple times a week, they come in once or twice a month, he said. He remains excited about the restaurant business, "but it's tough," he conceded, "especially with the economy the way it is. It's a struggle to make ends meet."
In addition, there's plenty of competition just in Port Chester and Rye Brook. Di Rende, 46, married with three young children and living in East Fishkill, said he realizes "you've got to do different angles and bring in different items to keep the customers interested."
In an effort to "keep up with the times and change things around a little bit," he's added $10.95 personal pizzas (margherita, cheese, crumbled sausage and crumbled sausage with long hot peppers) and Panini (i. e. Caprese with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and basil pesto sauce; Calabrese with hot soppressata, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, hot cherry peppers and sundried tomatoes; grilled chicken with lemon tarragon mayo; steak with sautéed mushrooms and onions; grilled
salmon with arugula, lemon and tarragon mayo), ranging in price from $9.95 to $15.95, to the lunch menu.
Additionally, he's taking an intensive (5 days a week, 7 hours a day) 9-week course at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan with the goal of introducing different breads to the bread basket and homemade pastries for dessert. When my husband and I had dinner at Pasquale's last Saturday, I remarked about the tasty Parmesan bread sticks which I later found out were one of his creations. The previous weekend Di Rende made some savory olive bread which he allowed me to sample. Besides his new artisanal creations, Pasquale's offers a warm, crunchy pane di casa from Terranova Bakery on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
For dessert, Di Rende has whipped up some honey mascarpone napoleons with layers of puff pastry, honey mascarpone cream and fresh strawberries which take two days to craft but went over well with customers on his first attempt. He's hoping to make them again for Mother's Day. The desserts could defi-nitely use some invigorating, as only the tiramisu and Italian cheesecake are house made, and I welcome the new additions the owner has in store.
Pasquale would be a great choice for Mother's Day. Seatings for that special day will be at 1:00, 3:30 and 6:00 p. m. when the regular menu will be available plus the normal specials. These are listed on a large white grease board which is moved from table to table. Five or six appetizers, two pasta dishes and a total of eight meat, chicken and seafood entrées as well as an occasional dessert are posted daily in addition to the 4-6 featured wines of the month. The latter specially-priced bottles of both red and white wine hail mostly from Italy and California with an occasional variety coming from places like Argentina or South Africa.
The regular wine list, packaged in an easy-to-read narrow book, features a good selection of red and white wines from Italy and California, a few reds from Spain and Washington, one blush and one rosé as well as Champagne and sparkling wines, all priced from $30 to $175, with several in the reasonable $30-45 range.
Popular specials for Mother's Day Di Rende expects to offer are surf and turf or lobster tails and from there he'll see what's available at the market, but you can count on a good selection of pasta, meat and chicken entrées.
Food and service consistently top notch
In all my years eating at Pasquale, I can safely say that I've never had a bad meal, a sentiment echoed by Rocca Muto of Port Chester who was among the guests at her nephew's Communion party last Sunday afternoon which filled the main dining room. She said she's been having parties there since the restaurant opened, the food has always been excellent and "Frank has always been the best," accommodating their every need including dietary restrictions. She has even brought people from Italy to dine at Pasquale.
Service, too, is exceptional. A number of waiters, bus boys and runners work together and actually scramble to get the food to their customers and then to clear away the dishes and brush the crumbs from their tables after the meal. Two waiters, Adrian Rangel of New Rochelle and Hector Granados of the Bronx, have been with Di Rende since day one and are in charge when he's not there.
With longtime head chef Rosario Barrera no longer at Pasquale, Di Rende has been taking charge of the kitchen, instructing the sous chefs. They all work together. "Four guys have been with me almost from when we started, so they know the routine," he said. "We learn from each other."
Di Rende is also manager, maître d'and bartender. "I do it all," he said.
His parents help out on weekends and his dad, Paul, goes or he and his dad travel to Hunt's Point in the Bronx for meats, vegetables and seafood. In a pinch he'll go to Restaurant Depot in Port Chester for provisions.
Besides his mother Carmella's gnocchi Bolognese ($16.95), which she makes at home, Di Rende recommends the Linguine Pescatore ($19.95), which he said is popular. It features linguine with fresh chopped clams and shrimp in a light marinara sauce. Next comes the Veal Chop Capricciosa (topped with a salsa of chopped parsley, grated parmesan, bread crumbs, olive oil, whole tomatoes, onion, and basil) which is not listed on the menu. Beef Tenderloin alla Pasquale with Portobello mushrooms in a cognac sauce, also unlisted, was another recommendation. This signature dish I've savored at parties catered by Pasquale.
As for the gnocchi, which are topped with the restaurant's delicious meat sauce, Di Rende said his mom "has the right knack to make them light and fluffy."
Pasquale II, which seats 130, has two dining rooms, one to your right and one to your left off the entryway. Both are decorated with mirrors to make them seem even larger than they are. First a wooden bench and tapestry followed by an oak divider set with plants and bottles of olive oil and a worn rustic tile floor greet you upon entering Pasquale. Straight ahead a small bar seating six at tall chairs is surrounded by rich wood cabinetry filled with liquor bottles. A matching rack displays an extensive selection of wines. You enter the sunnier dining room with lots of large windows to your right through an open archway. Gold and pale green valances with tassels match the curtains that are usually tied back at the entranceway but can be closed for private parties. This room can accommodate parties of up to 60 people.
The wide windows throughout the restaurant are hung with these subtly colored valances with tassels and fancy gold
window shades that let in plenty of filtered light. Walls are covered with gold wallpaper on top and the decorative wood below is painted white. Tables are set with white cloths and matching napkins in water glasses as well as fancy bottles of olive oil. Wooden chairs and barstools have wine-colored seats to match the carpeting.
Lots of light flows into the restaurant during the day and flames from candles in multicolored glass holders dance to
provide a subtle glow at night. Beautiful tapestries of Italian villas by the sea decorate the walls.
Dinner for two
One of two recent dinners my husband and I enjoyed at Pasquale-this one on a Saturday evening-started with the warm round European bread with crunchy crust from the Terranova Bakery Pasquale has become known for plus those yummy parmesan-flavored bread sticks Di Rende concocted.
We chose a bottle of one of the featured wines of the month-Guenoc 2000 Victorian Claret from California ($35) to pair with our meal. Claret is the English term for wines from the Bordeaux region with cherry, raspberry and chocolate aromas. Somewhat sweet, smooth and light, this wine blended perfectly with a pasta as well as a fish dish.
To start our meal, we shared the Portabella alla Pasquale ($8.95) appetizer, which brought three whole mushroom caps topped with additional mushroom pieces in the same delicious, slightly sweet brown cognac sauce the recommended Tenderloin alla Pasquale is cooked in.
We also shared a garden salad ($5.95) of iceberg lettuce and radicchio with tomato wedges, a few green olives and chunks of gorgonzola cheese ($2 extra). A simple salad with a simple dressing of oil, vinegar and salt made for a delightful combination.
I felt compelled to try the Gnocchi Bolognese ($16.95) and was not disappointed in these little dumplings made
from potatoes, semolina, flour, or a combination of these ingredients topped with a hearty meat sauce.
The Filetto di Salmone alla Dijonese ($22.95) brought a good-sized piece of flaky fish topped with a luscious sauce of Dijon mustard, white wine, capers, a bit of heavy cream and seasoning.
Broccoli was chosen as the vegetable to accompany the meal and this, too, was exceptional- simply cooked in garlic and oil so it was firm but not crunchy.
For dessert, we chose the cannoli ($4) which was served on a square white plate with dollops of whipped cream in the corners decorated with a red berry sauce like many of Pasquale's desserts. The meal-ending treat of sweet cream in a crunchy shell couldn't have been better. The lemon sorbet ($6), tart and refreshing, came frozen in a scooped out lemon peel.
With two coffees, our bill came to approximately $115.
We had the perfect table in front of the window in the main dining room where the light streamed in and created a warm glow surrounded by the bustle and din but not roar of customers from young adults to senior citizens.
Except for having to ask for parmesan cheese for the gnocchi, service by the staff working together was excellent, even on a busy night.
Pasquale Osso, the person for whom Pasquale II was named and Di Rende's cousin, was originally his partner and head chef. He left the business around 2000 to start a new venture in Maryland and then died in a freak accident a few years later. When he became the sole owner, Di Rende decided not to change the name of the restaurant.
Di Rende and Osso, who both came from the town of San Lucido in southern Italy, had worked together at Dominick's on Arthur Avenue when Osso asked Di Rende about going partners with him in this new restaurant. They had a few friends and customers from Port Chester who recommended this location to them. "We came to see it, liked it and went with it," Di Rende said.
They opened Pasuale II on Nov. 18, 1996, naming it such since Osso already had another restaurant with the same name in Eastchester.
Di Rende, who came to this country as a baby, was right out of college and working on Wall Street when he was attracted into the restaurant business by his uncle, co-owner of Dominick's. He married Debbie seven years ago and they have two boys and a girl-Nicolas, 5, Anthony, 3½, and Deana, 19 months. Once in a while they come to eat at "Daddy's restaurant."
Hours and parking
Pasquale is closed Monday, open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 12-4 p. m. and for dinner Tuesday through Thursday until 10 p. m., Friday until 11 p. m., Saturday from 3-11 p. m. and Sunday from 1-9 p. m.
There is free parking on the premises and free valet parking on the weekends, if there are any functions booked or if the number of reservations is such that the 25 spaces in the lot will not suffice.
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