The false lament during the pandemic among certain food media was that no one in their right mind would dare reopen a shuttered restaurant, or try a new one, even after the fever had subsided. Yet. dozens of restaurants remain open monthly in every town, and it’s clear that Sammy V. Gashi was one of those who didn’t get the negative message. He already runs San Marino Soho and Antica Ristorante on Stone Street and, with his brother, another in Queens.
Even in the best of times, opening a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan seems like a big risk, especially one as sophisticated as Ramerino Italian Prime.
he has proven himself as one of those Albanian immigrants for whom America was truly a land of opportunity.
By merely copying his other successes, Gashi may have cashed in on a proven concept, but Ramerino is nothing like his other establishments, and,
though they all serve traditional Italian dishes, they also differ, with Ramerino (Tuscan for rosemary) putting more emphasis on the beef selections. Executive Chef Vilfredo Hodai, a Tuscan who worked at La Giostra in Florence, known for his bisteccaadds many of its own touches to a traditional menu.
Ramerino is a very pretty dining room, softly lit but not at all dark, with fluted pillars, polished wooden walls, very comfortable plush velvet chairs, fine linens and candles on the table. The silverware has weight, the wine glasses, of various sizes, thin. The well-dressed wait staff could not be more cordial, which is a hallmark of Albanian restaurants in New York.
On the night we visited there were unfortunate long breaks between courses – our meal lasted three hours – but I’m sure if you tell them you want to be ready in two hours they will be happy to accommodate you. The wine list is rich with good Italian bottlings at the usual markups and most reds are decanted deftly.
The generous spirit begins with a complimentary plate of three loaves of bread, featuring pieces of 36-month-old Parmigiano and soppressata sausage. There are 15 antipasti and four salads ($15-$16).
I pretty much left it to Gashi to choose our menu for a table of four,
and we started with some delicious, nicely spiced artichoke hearts with creamy avocado ($18) and perfectly grilled octopus with a delicious chickpea puree, lemon and olive oil ($25). Best of all was a sumptuous dish of sliced eggplant layered with tomato, parmigiano, and basil ($18). Not impressive was cauliflower with a bland béchamel and parmigiano ($18). All of these are easy to share.
Ten pastas are listed — all on heated plates — including a well-textured risotto made with Canaroli rice, tender asparagus, zucchini, and a dash of golden saffron ($26). In a city consumed by Roman cacio e pepeRamerino’s is a standout, starting with thick tonarelli, strong pecorino Romano, black pepper, and grated parmigiano ($26). The richest and boldest of all is the homemade one pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, truffle oil and goat cheese ($29). The most unusual was linguine with bottarga ($29) – pasta dressed with mullet’s dried roe – not because you won’t find it anywhere else, but because it’s not usually the main ingredient. Here you get a good deal bottarganot too salty, not too intense but wonderfully salty.
The thick, well-shaped and boiled potato gnocchi al pesto ($26) could have used the basil flavor and color of a more intense summer, but it was good of its kind.
I didn’t try the 36 ounce bistecca for two, which would have served three or four ($129), opting instead for a thick, flavorful filet mignon in a well-reduced red wine sauce ($48), which itself served two. Veal scaloppine came with wild mushrooms and a demi-glace of ideal viscosity and richness ($36), while chicken was wrapped in goat cheese, with zucchini, brussels sprouts and carrots ($32). I love Dover sole (MP) and Ramerino’s is one of the best, juiciest and firmest I’ve had in ages, expertly deboned tableside.
hare at least one dessert [prices TK]: cannoli full and freshly filled with pastry cream; a tiramisu; and a lemon cheesecake.
Ramerino is steps from the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, but 39th Street is quiet, and inside you’ll be treated with grace without the hustle and bustle of downtown trattorias. Ramerino is a real breath of fresh air after six, and if you opt for a ribeye or bistecca alla Fiorentina, it will be a more comfortable experience here than in the rowdy steakhouses nearby.
RAMERINO ITALIAN PRIME
16 East 39th Street
Open Mon-Fri for lunch; Mon-Sat. for dinner.