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Il Castello for the Royal Treatment

ilcastelloexteriorThe first time I visited 576 Mamaroneck Avenue it was a pleasant Japanese restaurant. It was replaced by several Italian spots and eight years ago, the lovely Il Castello arrived. Owner Lenny Balidemaj is at the helm of this classic Northern Italian dining spot. How refreshing to enjoy the total dining experience in a classy yet cozy environment where the noise level is moderate and the background music is mellow. Beautifully prepared dishes, plus traditional, unobtrusive and attentive service set the stage for a fine experience.

Climb a few steps through classic columns to enter the 68 seat restaurant. A bar separates two dining areas with white linen clad tables, gold leaf framed floral paintings and mirrors, wood floors and burgundy window treatments for a touch of color.
Balidemaj indicated, "Hard work, quality of ingredients cleanliness and good management are the most important ingredients for success." Along with manager Tony Bajraktari, the staff is like family and has worked together since its opening. "We planned the menu together. Everything is prepared to order. We don't overwhelm our dishes. There is no hiding good quality. Our seasonings are subtle and we are not heavy handed on the spices." Balidemaj hails from a large family in Montenegro. He is the youngest of ten children. "I was always interested in food. We ate most of our meals at home. We caught our own fish and our vegetables were garden fresh. Everything was prepared from scratch. This philosophy of freshness is followed at Il Castello, as well." Balidemaj gives this advice to a future restauranteur," Be trustworthy, true to yourself, know what you are doing, and make your guests feel relaxed and welcome, with the feeling that they are in the right place."ilcastelloDR

Our table was set with mixed olives, a cruet of oil and vinegar, and a basket of bread and delicious semolina and herb thin breadsticks. The well-trained staff was diligent about changing silverware, filling water glasses and clearing crumbs from the table. From the daily specials we enjoyed a dish of zucchini shredded lengthwise resembling spaghetti, mingled with arugula, wild mushrooms, garlic and olive oil. Basil, black truffles and oregano added flavor to this fresh mildly spiced starter. Andrew's seafood salad, a favorite of Balidemaj's son Andrew, is one of the best renditions of this popular dish that I have had. The ultra-fresh shrimp, calamari and crabmeat are tossed with a lemon and oil dressing. Red bell pepper, celery and Bibb lettuce and diner friendly pitted black olives added color to this wonderful salad. Eggplant rollatini, baked clams, and grilled jumbo shrimp with artichoke hearts are other possibilities.

seafoodsaladWe passed on the many soups and salads and moved on to the pastas, many of them house made. Absolutely delicious is the fettuccine expertly tossed with sliced garlic, fresh basil, jumbo shrimp and a variety of mushrooms. The al dente pasta is prepared with semolina and white flour. I omitted the hot cherry peppers and thoroughly enjoyed this dish, where the pasta absorbed the flavors of its components. The house made pappardelle with a fine Bolognese sauce and chopped sweet sausage is another must try dish, a hearty bowlful. Cheese ravioli is house made, as well and can be enjoyed with vodka or fresh tomato and basil sauce.

Entrees of chicken, veal, beef, lamb and fish are varied. We chose Veal Castello. The top quality scallopine [3 scallops}, were topped with chopped shrimp and shitake mushrooms and finished with a sage sauce. Clearly, Il Castello knows that top quality ingredients are essential in good results. Vegetables and potatoes completed this dish. For our next entrée, we chose one of the fish specials, our halibut was truly an original. It was sweet, savory and outstanding. The thick perfectly seared halibut was combined with quartered black mission figs, sliced fresh crisp asparagus tips, and capers in a white wine lemon sauce. Served with fresh spinach and a bit of sliced sautéed garlic, it was a dish I would love to see on the printed menu and not just as a special.

Other entrees include rack of lamb, grilled with marinated mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes, veal medallion with lobster tail over risotto, veal Colombo with prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella in a champagne sauce, grilled salmon with mustard sauce, as well as grilled filet mignon and New York Strip Specials are often seasonal such as grilled eggplant with Tuscan beans and grilled octopus, veal osso bucco with risotto, or roast duck with cherry sauce.

At lunch, a 2-course business lunch offers an appetizer, entrée and coffee or tea. The regular menu is available at lunch, as well.

Desserts of house made tiramisu, cheesecake, apple strudel, crème brulee and key lime cheesecake are on the menu here. However, I needed to keep the taste of my halibut and figs in my mouth and I declined dessert. A sweet will have to wait for my next visit.

We have discovered that Mamaroneck boasts many restaurants of many styles. Some are new and others are long standing. Il Castello is eight years old and hopefully it will be satisfying our tastes for many more years. It is classic rather than trendy in style, which entices us to keep returning. Classic cuisine much like classic fashion, never goes out of style.

A dining note----- Lenny's Seafood and Steakhouse has recently been opened in Mamaroneck by Lenny Balidemaj... another nice dining option.

Il Castello
576 Mamaroneck Avenue
Mamaroneck, New York
(914) 777 2200

Recipe:
Branzino with Dijon Sauce for 2

Ingredients:

2 whole branzino about 1 ¼ pounds each, roasted on high heat
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
Pinch chopped fresh parsley
Pinch oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ tsp. Pernod
¼ tsp. Dijon mustard

Instructions:

In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, and sauté until lightly golden. Toss in the parsley, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Add the Pernod and mustard and heat until smooth. Serve with the roasted branzino.

JudieJudie Dweck has been writing about restaurants and food for many publications. She teaches creative cooking to children at Scarsdale elementary schools. Through the years, her articles have appeared in Jack and Jill Magazine, Spotlight, The Pleasure of Cooking and The Scarsdale Inquirer. She balances her restaurant tastings with daily ballet classes.

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