Grilled branzino with a salad of arugula, tomatoes, red onion, avocado, lemon juice and olive oil on the menu at Città Wine Bar & Restaurant at 316 Boston Post Rd. in Port Chester, formerly Il Sogno.Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
Grilled branzino with a salad of arugula, tomatoes, red onion, avocado, lemon juice and olive oil on the menu at Città Wine Bar & Restaurant at 316 Boston Post Rd. in Port Chester, formerly Il Sogno.

Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
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The restaurant business isn't easy, and with so many eateries in Port Chester and Rye Brook, it's hard to compete. To keep their establishments fresh and interesting, sometimes restaurateurs need to make some changes. That's what's been happening lately in Port Chester.

Following in the footsteps of Port Chester Hall, two other eating establishments in the village have reinvented themselves in an effort to drum up more business. Just as Port Chester Hall at the Metro-North station became the more generic Heartland Black + Gold last month, to the dismay of local patrons, this month Il Sogno changed its name to Città Wine Bar & Restaurant and nessa ristorante rebranded itself as an American bistro while keeping the nessa moniker.



The name and concept change at Città (city in Italian) is "just to make something different," said co-owner and head chef Jimmy Resulbegu of Manhattan, who hails from Montenegro (the former Republic of Yugoslavia). "We changed the menu 20%, the wine bar will have more wines to choose from. We want to be a restaurant with a bar. You don't have to have a full dinner, you can have just appetizers."

The changeover is happening gradually-first the name change, which was visible to anyone who travels the Boston Post Road, as Città is located at #316, near Route 1's intersection with South Regent Street. The new name required a different menu with many of the same dishes plus a slew of specials. It is still evolving. Resulbegu said this week he planned to move the burger and the meatballs off the regular menu onto a special bar menu with other items such as crudités. Then an actual wine bar that can seat six appeared across from the full bar and a large wooden wine case was moved to a prominent position.

Although it wasn't evident on my two visits since the name change, Resulbegu said Città will eventually be pouring around 20 different wines by the glass and 100 by the bottle, mainly Italian and Californian varieties.

One variety I did try on my first visit and liked so much that I had to order it again was the 2013 Canyon Road Pinot Noir, priced at $10 a glass. It lives up to its description as having rich cherry flavors, soft tannins, a medium body and a smooth, velvety finish.

Exceptional Italian/Mediterranean food, plethora of options haven't changed

I've always felt that the Italian/Mediterranean food at Il Sogno, which opened almost seven years ago, was exceptional-well prepared, beautifully presented and made with only the freshest ingredients. The current menu at Città only includes a smattering of the 1,500 dishes per year that the restaurant will continue to offer. The menu will change with the seasons two to three times a year plus there are about 20 specials per day including appetizers, pastas, meats and fishes which rotate every two to three days.

My complaint to Resulbegu was that there are so many specials it is difficult to remember them all after the server rattles them off. He responded to my suggestion of printing them out on paper or on a blackboard by saying that something is lost in writing them down. The entire description of the preparation cannot be captured the way it can when it is articulated. "The sound of the dish is how you love it," he said. I agree with him there.

Rafael Gil of Port Chester, who has been at Il Sogno since it opened and worked at other Port Chester restaurants before that, was our server on our two most recent visits and was the bartender on another late night occasion when we ambled in about a month ago. Sometimes this pleasant young man also works in the kitchen, he said. Gil has a knack for reciting the specials and doesn't mind if you need them repeated more than once.

Resulbegu, a dynamic fellow who is usually on the premises and circulates among the customers when it's busy, agrees with my assessment. "I still think I have the best food in Port Chester," he said. "The biggest problem with the customers is what to choose."

Unique house specialties

As far as house specialties, "we do a lot of different white truffle dishes," said Resulbegu, who owned Il Sogno on 39th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues in the Eastgate Tower Hotel in New York City for 4½ years before partnering with Raphael Palomino of Bedford to bring it to Westchester when the hotel was bought by Marriott Marquis. Palomino, a well-known chef, previously owned Pacifico at the current Città location and co-owns Sonora in Port Chester, among other restaurants. The two restaurateurs met when Sonora was also on 39th Street. Porcini Ravioli ($27), made with white truffle sauce, is currently on the menu. I've also had their linguine with white truffle sauce which is creamy and delicious.

Other house specialties are Eggplant Lasagna, a delicate appetizer special made with thin layers of eggplant and no pasta, and Grilled Wild Shrimp from the Gulf over onions, arugula and tomatoes topped with olive oil, lemon, raw garlic and parsley chopped very fine ($15). This special appetizer is served with the thin, clear shells pulled off the shrimp but still made part of the beautiful presentation. The dressing is whipped and drizzled over the top of the grilled shrimp. "It's how they do it back home," said Resulbegu.

Veal Martini and Chicken Martini are also signature dishes that are not on the menu. They are pounded thin, parmesan crusted and served with a white wine and lemon sauce. "I think the veal is better than the chicken," the co-owner said.

Chicken Sorpresa ($21), which does appear on the menu, is similar except the white wine and lemon sauce is lighter.

Cod Aqua Pazza ($26) is another specialty made with steamed cod, fish broth, white wine vinegar, white wine and mixed vegetables, a 100-year-old dish. Cod, said Resulbegu, is the most healthy fish you can eat. Another preparation of the fish, baked whole under a sea salt crust and served with olive oil and lemon, can only be offered during the week because its preparation backs up the kitchen.

Being offered currently as a frequent special are Angus Beef Short Ribs cooked for an hour and a half with carrots, celery and onions, beef broth and red wine. The vegetables are in the end puréed and served as a yummy sauce over the top. This scrumptious dish is served over risotto, fettucine or gnocchi. "I could eat it every day," said Resulbegu. I quite agree with him. My husband and I split this dish as well as having a few appetizers on one occasion and both raved about how heavenly it was.

Meals come with a basket of Tuscan bread served with a mild-tasting tomato spread. You can also get olive oil for dipping upon request.

Many desserts ($9) are homemade including the chocolate mousse, zabaglione with sliced strawberries and ricotta cheesecake, all of which were lovely, but the zabaglione, light and delicious, stood out

A meal for three with one shrimp appetizer, one steamed mussels fra diavolo appetizer ($14), one Città salad ($10), two entrées (Chicken Sorpresa and Rigatoni Rustica ($23) made with olives, capers, tomatoes and sausage), three desserts, three coffees and two glasses of wine came to $139.20.

Formal dining room the same

The elegant formal dining room at Città, which seats 85-90, hasn't changed, with its white tablecloths and napkins, classic wood chairs with black, white and tan fabric seats, hanging round clear lights with exposed filaments, stone accents that remain from many previous incarnations of this restaurant and knotty wood floors.

Another 35 can be seated in a room up a few steps behind the bar, and a room upstairs can accommodate 40 people for private parties.

Hours and parking

Food is served Sunday through Thursday from 12-3 and 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.

The odd-shaped parking area around the building can hold 40-50 cars with spillover possible into the empty lot next door. There is valet parking on weekends and during private parties.

"We have very good food," said Resulbegu. "People don't think this kind of restaurant could be in this area" with all of the fast food chains surrounding it. He's hoping the new moniker and wine bar denotation will attract more customers to the location to discover the exceptional preparations Città has to offer.

nessa reborn

I haven't had a chance to eat there since the transformation, but last weekend nessa at 325 North Main St., just down and across the street from the Port Chester police station, completed its rebranding from an Italian enoteca to an American bistro. "We even redecorated for the event," wrote proprietor Marc Tessitore in an Oct. 16 email.

First of all, I noticed the flag out front has been changed from Italian to American.

"We want the flexibility in 2015-16 to cook from an international viewpoint, and while our underpinnings are certainly Italian, we adore French and Asian cuisine, too," states their press release, written by Tessitore and his father Peter, the co-proprietor who is responsible for all the beautiful flowers and lush greenery inside and outside the restaurant.

Favorite dishes created nearly a decade ago by chef Brady Duhame have been preserved, but they brought in All Star chef Joseph David Mortelliti, owner of On the Way Café in Rye, to spar with current executive chef José Castro, who has been at nessa since 2006, to create a new fall menu. It features such delicacies as Salmon Carpaccio, Watercress and Ricotta Mousse, Curry Mussels, Pea Shoot and Mint Salad, Mother Earth's Beet Salad and Soil, Pasta Fagiole, Wild Mushroom Pasta and Poached Almond Milk and Soy Salmon.

To solidify the transition and rebranding of nessa, the Tessitores hired former Starbucks corporate leader Mario Salov to head up the dining room and create private parties both large and small.