Sunday, Aug 07th

Anna Maria's Restaurant Celebrates 10 Years in Larchmont

annamariaItalian restaurants come in all shapes and sizes, from casual to formal, featuring dishes from north and south of Italy and each spot has its own style. In Larchmont, Anna Maria's Restaurant adds charm to Chatsworth Avenue which reminds one of a European restaurant row. On warm summer days, outdoor tables line the street with many dining options. On a recent evening I decided to visit Anna Maria's Restaurant, celebrating its tenth year. The space has been renovated and now has a comfortable bar and a modern look, with leather chairs and wood tables. It is owned by Anna Maria Santorelli and her partner, Jennifer Esposito. I was greeted warmly by Ms. Santorelli, who arrived with handfuls of freshly picked herbs and squash blossoms. I guess that squash blossoms would be a special in the evening.

Santorelli has a dynamite personality that lights up the room and she oversees every aspect of the restaurant. "With my name on the door, I have to deliver. Everything here is fresh and of high quality. We do not use any shortcuts." She came here from Naples when she was ten years old. "I helped my mom in the kitchen and mastered the preparation of many Neapolitan classics. My mother is my greatest gift. Many of her dishes appear on my menu. If you can't prepare a fine tomato sauce, you are out of business. My mom inspired me to attend culinary school, and upon graduating from The New York Restaurant School, I eventually worked my way up from prep cook to assistant cook and eventually to executive chef at Gracie Mansion, where I cooked for Mayor Dinkins, Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg. I cooked for many dignitaries and celebrities." In 2006, Santorelli opened Anna Maria's in Larchmont, where she continues to be attentive and on top of everything. She is truly a kind and gracious restauranteur who is passionate about her work and grateful for her success. "It is a great feeling to know that people love my cooking. My customers are like family. In a few words, I describe my restaurant as homey, cozy and welcoming. We embrace changes with several innovative dishes, but we keep the traditional favorites. This way, we keep our original guests and encourage new ones as well. You can dine at our bar now, where we serve Italian tapas."

Veal MeatballsJoining Santorelli in the kitchen is Chef Angel Bonjanovich. He traces his roots to Cuzco, Peru where his family owned a restaurant. "I attended college in Mexico where I cooked for my friends. I attended culinary school in Argentina. I worked in many Manhattan venues as well as in Antipasti in Westchester. I love every aspect of cooking and enjoy cooking for everyone. Perhaps I will open my own place in the future."

The delightful menu begins with about one dozen piccoli morsi, or small bites. We just couldn't resist Mamma Santorelli's Melanzana. It is Anna Maria's mother's recipe and is among the best I have tasted. What is the secret? First, the eggplant is sliced paper thin. The frying oil is just the correct temperature. This multilayered treasure with over a dozen layers, alternating with cheese and the fresh basil infused tomato sauce is excellent. To its credit is the fact that the eggplant doesn't absorb any of the oil. Simple and delicious was the fried calamari. These crisp tender morsels served with wedges of lemon and a perky house made marinara sauce were a great starter, as well. I look forward to trying Maria's flatbread with a variety of toppings, as well as burrata, that creamy centered mozzarella with prosciutto di parma, tomato and truffled balsamic. For lighter starters, several salads are offered.

A side bar on the menu has several food related quotations. A Neapolitan meal includes a pasta course. In the words of Frederico Fellini, "Life is a combination of magic and pasta "The pastas I sampled here were magical. How could you pass on a dish called Deliciousness? Here, pennoni pasta is tossed with caramelized whole Cipollini onions, peas and olive oil with shredded ricotta salata on top. It was a bowl full of "deliciousness" Sophia Loren is quoted, as well. "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti." While I certainly can't guarantee that a dish of Anna Maria's pasta will make you look like Ms. Loren, you certainly will be happy with the tastes. We especially loved the signature dish of linguini with seafood and shitake mushrooms tossed in a light tomato shrimp sauce. I would be proud to have my signature on that dish. Other tempting options are gnocchi in the Neapolitan style, Mama's cheese lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and homemade pappardelle with truffle oil and wild mushrooms.

Of the main dishes we sampled, Chef's Chicken was a modern delight. The sautéed chicken breast rested on a bed of risotto studded with meaty wild mushrooms, goat cheese and a light Dijon, cognac sauce. Salmon AL Sorrento, grilled branzino, veal Marsala and even a Chatsworth burger are other entrée choices. Specials are prepared each evening, as well.

Among the desserts are tartufo, tiramisu, Italian cheesecake and gelato. We completed our meal with zeppole. These ricotta fritters were served with a touch of Nutella and a generous sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.''

Enjoy dinner at the warm and welcoming Anna Maria's Restaurant, where you will be greeted like family.

Anna Maria's Restaurant
18 Chatsworth Avenue
Larchmont, NY
(914) 833-0555

Butternut Squash Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushroom Mascarpone Sauce
(Serves 8-12)

For the Gnocchignocchi
16 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups jarred butternut squash
2 eggs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Dash nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt plus 1 Tablespoon
5 cups flour {a little more if needed}
Pepper, to taste

Put all the ingredients except the tablespoon of salt in a food processor. Process until a dough forms without over mixing. Remove dough and knead it by hand for a few minutes. Divide into fist sized pieces. Roll each into long logs as thick as your thumb. Cut the logs into 1 inch pieces. Use 2 fingers to press the middle of each piece rolling toward you to create a half moon shape. Fill a large pot with water. Add a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add gnocchi and remove with a slotted spoon as soon as they rise to the top. Drain, add the sauce and serve.

½ cup olive oil
16 ounces crimini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into thin slices
4 Tbsps. unsalted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
2/3 cup mascarpone cheese
½ cup grated parmesan
½ cup fresh, chopped parsley leaves

Heat oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring until mushrooms are tender. Turn off heat, and stir in the mascarpone. Toss until well combined. With the mushrooms. Put sauce over gnocchi. Top with grated cheese and parsley and serve immediately.

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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