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Amalfi Coast Cooking – NYC Vibe Arrives at Tino's Cucina in Mt. Vernon

meatballWe are happy to welcome Tino's Cucina, the recently opened dining spot at the site of the former Buona Serra in Mt. Vernon. Completely renovated, Tino's Cucina brings a New York City vibe to Gramatan Avenue.

Shades of grey, white and black give the duplex space a very contemporary look. The main level has an ample bar with comfortable stools with backs, and several tables, as well. The white brick walls lend a bright appearance to the space. If you prefer, smoked glass separates the main level with a staircase leading to the large upstairs dining room. In the past it was a party room and has been transformed into a pleasant dining room.

I shared a meal with experienced personable owner, Ryan "Tino" Tarantino, who described his new venture as, "authentic Southern Italian food in an atmosphere of sexy sophistication." Tarantino worked his way through college in many areas of restaurants from dishwasher to waiter to dining room and bar. He moved on to the hospitality business in Manhattan. Through the years, he opened and operated many upscale dining and nightlife venues. Among them are the "Whiskey Lounges "at the W Hotels, Kiss and Fly Nightclub, Rdv Lounge, and Brasserie Beaumarchais, all becoming staples in the meatpacking district of New York. Their clientele included many well known guests.

According to Tarantino, "Tino's Cucina affords its guests a casual but elegant dining experience. Our ingredients, both local and imported, do all the talking. Our kitchen has neither a freezer nor a microwave. Everything is freshly prepared. The best part of my work is interacting with our guests. I love people. Given the opportunity, I would love to serve my grandmother who loved to eat. I also love cooking for my wife, a Mt. Vernon schoolteacher. I hope that Tino's Cucina, with its cool sexy feel, will become a Mt. Vernon staple and become a compliment to the neighborhood."

The doormat at the entrance read MANGIA, and so we did. I decided to dine on the main level and was served by Manny, who gave several fine suggestions. Country bread and raisin bread and olive oil were offered. The breads were fresh and pleasantly warm. Chef Pardo was busy in the kitchen preparing dishes, both classic and modern, each with his personal touch. From the antipasti selections, the polpettine was suggested .These light and very nicely seasoned beef meatballs were a hearty starter of three meatballs surrounded by tomato sauce and garnished with fresh basil. They were a delicious beginning traditional in taste and modern in presentation on its white china. We also enjoyed another popular classic, eggplant rollatini. The thinly sliced eggplant was rolled with several cheeses and baked in homemade marinara sauce. Clearly, the chef knows how to choose his eggplants. This one was sweet, rather than bitter, as eggplants often are. Depending on the size of the eggplant slices you may receive five or six rolls, a hearty portion, indeed. Future starters may include marinated artichokes, prosciutto and melon, or Tuscan tomato dip. On a cool day minestra or pasta e fagioli are good choices.

A meal at Tino's Cucina should certainly include one of their ten- inch pizzas. Their special pizza oven reaches 900 degrees, which assures quick baking. Would it be a classic Margherita, Napoli with anchovies, verde or Bianca with bone marrow? We chose Rucola on one half and Salsiccia on the other. The crisp crusts complimented the savory toppings. The rucola pie combined San Marzano tomatoes, arugula and prosciutto di parma among its ingredients. Their fresh flavors melded together for a tasty result. Quite delicious, as well was the spicy sausage pie in which broccoli rabe combined with spicy Italian sausage for a tangy exciting taste sensation. Among the interesting salad choices, roasted beets with coriander, mint and citrus flavors, zucchini with pine nuts, capers, tomatoes and ricotta and more familiar salads such as caprese and burrata are lighter choices. We moved on to the pastas. Cavatelli was combined with sliced tender grilled octopus and marinara sauce seasoned with just the right amount of garlic and basil. We also enjoyed tagliatelle al ragu. Here, the al dente tangle of pasta strands was bathed in a rich and divine Bolognese sauce with a touch of parmigiana. Future pasta choices may include fedelini with clams, or perhaps sage flavored gnocchi.

Entrees at Tino's Cucina range from grilled branzino, musselsporkchop fra diavolo, bistecca fiorentina and pan seared lemon chicken, to name but a few. We chose pesto mussels. The plump mussels, gleaming in their shells, rested in a broth of pesto and white wine. We used our bread for dipping, not wishing to waste any of this flavorful sauce. From the meat selections, we savored the crowning glory of a dish, maiale tritare. This brined and grilled top quality Berkshire pork chop free of hormones and antibiotics, shared the plate with farro and cippolini agrodolce which derived its sweet and sour flavor from simmering in a mixture of vinegar, sugar and wine. This melt in your mouth pork chop was a winner in my book.

Wines, beer and hand crafted cocktails are offered to compliment your meal. If you still have room (we did not), for dessert, housemade tiramisu, Nutella pizza and cannoli are among the desserts.

Lunch at Tino's Cucina offers antipasti, pizzas, pasta and salads as well as a varied selection of interesting sandwich combinations such as chicken parmigiana hero, polpettine, and a Portofino sandwich with prosciutto cotto, mozzarella, baby arugula and eggplant, to name but a few choices.

If brunch is your meal of choice, arrive on Sunday for many breakfast specials in addition to antipasti, salads, pizza and pastas. You can savor poached farm eggs marinara, or fiorentina with prosciutto cotto or baked farm eggs with potato codfish mash. For sweeter choices try the lemon ricotta pancakes or crepes with ricotta and fruit.
Experience authentic Italian dishes with a modern twist in an urban atmosphere at the new Tino's Cucina soon.

Tino's Cucinatinos
546 Gramatan Avenue
Mt. Vernon
(914) 664 8466

More about the Polpettine:
This description indicates the fine ingredients that Tino's Cucina uses, so rather than preparing the dish at home, treat yourself to the dish at Tino's.

"We use 3 ounces of beef for each portion of 3 meatballs for our appetizer. They are made with all beef, no pork, Pecorino Romano, ricotta, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and a little aged provolone for more flavor. They are lightly seared in olive oil and simmered in tomato sauce until tender.

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