Country Capitalist: May 2008
Another Marchetti Tarantino winner, Columbus Park in downtown Stamford is warm, welcoming and gratifyingly consistent. Here brother-sister team Michael and Rosetta Marchetti greet patrons, oversee service and keep an eagle eye on the preparations of seasonal and housemade specialties from the spotless kitchens.
For starters, out come fava bean soup with sauteed wild mushrooms; wild chicory salad in a simple yet sensational olive oil, lemon and anchovy dressing; or tender squid, either fried or grilled, with a red pepper and thyme vinaigrette.
Primi include Maria's signature gnocchi tossed with fresh and smoked salmon in a delicate cream sauce; cavatelli with speck, artichoke, cherry tomatoes and black truffles, or Maria's special ravioli of the day - perhaps stuff with veal, perhaps ricotta or pumpkin.
As an entree, Chilean sea bass sauteed with fresh herbs and white wine rarely comes any better; crispy on the outside, flaky and moist within. Those preferring meat will love the tender lamb chops, pan roasted rosemary, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.
A second floor event room was recently added to the restaurant's charming, brick-walled, main dining room, with floor to ceiling windows, its own kitchen, and ample space to host private or corporate functions.
On your way out, take home a sample of the Marchetti's carefully selected, imported products from Italy; black or white truffle oil; Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; aged balsamic vinegar.
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Open for lunch 12 to 2:30 Monday to Friday; dinner 5 to 10 Monday to Thursday; 5 to 11 Friday to Saturday; closed Sunday
Reservations recommended; handicapped accessible; child-friendly; major credit cards; full bar; global wines; fine Italian cuisine; vegetarian selections; dietary restrictions honored; take-out; off-premises catering; business casual attire; wine dinners; private functions; ample parking on the street and in parking lots.
Within an easy traveling distance of each other are three restaurants owned by the Marchetti and Tarantino families. This successful restaurant group, under the title of Marchetti Management Services, LLC, began in 1983 with Maria's Trattoria in Norwalk, now sold, and expanded to include Columbus Park Trattoria in Stamford in 1985, Osteria Applausi in Old Greenwich and Tarantino Restaurant in Westport in 1994.
Today brothers Frank, Michael and Antonio Marchetti have taken over the business from their uncle and founder, Michael Tarantino. Their mother and father Mario and Tony Marchetti are still involved with the business, and Maria still makes her pastas for all three restaurants.
Columbus Park Trattoria, after a major renovation, has doubled its space, with the second floor available for private functions, including large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Columbus Park, a private bar, and a second kitchen space. On a recent visit with a group, I enjoyed a wine dinner created by executive chef Michael Marchetti and prepared by chef Oscar Campos.
The menu included Java bean soup with sauteed wild mushrooms; wild chicory with extra virgin olive oil; Maria Marchetti's so delicious gnocchi tossed with fresh and smoked salmon in a delicate cream sauce; cavatelli with speck, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and black truffles.
Entrees were Chilean sea bass sauteed with fresh herbs and white wine and veal scaloppini sauteed with porcini mushrooms, white wine and black truffles. The simply wonderful dessert was mascarpone and egg cream with Marsala wine.
Signature antipasti are calamari served either fried or grilled with a red pepper and thyme vinaigrette; crispy fried zucchini; beef carpaccio, thin slices of rare roast beef served with arugula, mushrooms, and shaved parmigiano, finished with white truffle oil. The popular salad is tricolore with arugula, radicchio and Belgian endive with balsamic vinaigrette and shaved Parmigiano, gorgonzola or goat cheese.
Favorite pastas are ravioli of the day; linguine tossed with sundried tomatoes, shrimp, anchovies, black olives, capers, garlic and oil; housemade green and white linguine tossed with sweet peppers, onions, and fennel with sea scallops, splash of Sambuca and a touch of cream; and housemade pasta with mixed seafood and cannellini beans with a splash of white wine.
Entrees cover all tastes: boneless chicken breast sauteed with hot cherry peppers, rosemary and balsamic vinegar; veal topped with eggplant, prosciutto and mozzarella in a delicate white wine sauce; pan-roasted rib lamb chop with rosemary, garlic and extra virgin olive oil; osso bucco, slow-braised veal shank with root vegetables and red wine served with saffron rissotto; and filet of halibut wrapped with smoked ham and sauteed with white wine, cherry tomatoes and asparagus.
For dessert, there's a traditional Italian ricotta cheese cake, tiramisu, creme brulee, lemon custard pie with roasted pine nuts, and seasonal sorbets and Italian ice creams.
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It's a 24/7 life, but you have to love it
Fairfield County Catholic
Michael J. Marchetti.watching him in action at the family's flagship restaurant, Columbus Park Trattoria.there can be no doubt who is Master and Commander of this universe. Greeting customers by name; checking the tables; recommending dishes or the perfect wine. On busy nights, he changes into whites and helps in the kitchen. He can cook every item, even the wild boar.
His manner is respectful, charming, a smile ever present - the perfect host, someone who makes you feel at home. "My mother, Maria, always loved cooking.with a cousin, she opened a small restaurant in Norwalk , Maria's Trattoria to raise money to help with my tuition. My brother Frank and I worked on weekends and over the summers." There the brothers learned the business - busing tables, cooking, tending bar. Today, three of the six Marchetti children have followed their parents into the business. Frank is the financial officer of the company, and Antonio is manager of Osteria Applausi in Old Greenwich. Today the Marchetti's run one of the largest family-owned and operated restaurant groups in Fairfield County . More than a dozen other restaurants have been started by former, well trained employees. A typical day begins at 8:30 a.m., runs through lunch, and often lasting until midnight - six days a week.
Never On Sunday
"We are always closed on Sundays, out of respect for our faith, and the family day," Marchetti says. "But we reserved it for parties - Communions, Baptisms, birthdays. Soon people asked us to do parties at their homes, and the catering side expanded, he recalls. Wedding receptions for 200 are now no problem.
Heritage of Faith
Marchetti says he relies on his Catholic faith and its mission of service to others in his daily life. "my parents raised us with a great love for our faith, with fundamental teachings of the Church, he says. Concern for others is paramount, he says. "We try to teach our employees the same values. A lot of them are Catholic. On holy days we take turns, so everyone can get to Mass," Marchetti says. I would say that 70 percent of our business is repeat customers.some of our customers have been coming for 20 years. .if I don't see them, I'll call them up at home and check on them," he continues. "I have customers who'll call us, to say they're not coming in for their regular table. It's like a great big family." The best part of the job, Marchetti says, is making people feel good. "That's the satisfaction, walking through the restaurant on a busy, busy night, with people saying, 'Thank you, we had a great time, the food was delicious, the service good, the atmosphere wonderful, etc.' You can be proud in a job well done."
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Restaurant family dumps the pizza and starts making some real dough
NORWALK - When Maria Marchetti and her growing family took over Pizza Time in Norwalk in 1983, she had the will and spirit to make it in the restaurant business and the belief that food and family go hand in hand. What the Marchettis didn't have was the know-how to make a pizza. "Dad put his fist through the pizza when he was trying to make it," recalls Frank Marchetti, the 32-year old managing partner of Marchetti Management Service, LLC, which now includes real estate, catering, and importing, along with four restaurants with loyal customer followings.
The Marchettis, along with Maria's brother, Michael Tarantino, didn't even have a regular stove or a fryer in their new "restaurant." When Maria received her first order for fried calamari and pasta, she ran out and bought a table-top fryer and two electric burners at Caldor's.
"Those were the days when pizzerias weren't restaurants," said Michael Marchetti, Frank's older brother and head of the operations side of the growing Marchetti empire. Sitting in the popular and well respected Columbus Park Trattoria in downtown Stamford, with its stylish interior, gorgeous bar and world -class food, it is hard to imagine that the Marchettis ever struggled in the restaurant business. But it does not take long to understand how they turned around their early missteps to eventually open Maria's Trattoria in early 1984 , followed by Apulia in South Norwalk in 1985, (now closed), Columbus Park in 1987, and both Osteria Applausi in Greenwich and Osteria Tarantino's in Westport in 1994.
Take a strong sense of family and hard work and add authentic Italian cooking from a family that came to this country from Gravina in Puglia, Italy in the 1960's. By offering homemade pasta, made to-order dishes with fresh imported ingredients, and ditching the pizza, the Marchettis quickly established a word-of mouth reputation. "The wait at Maria's could get to three hours and we didn't even have a bar," Frank Said. "People would go to the place next door and wait." Along with the food, though, was that intangible ingredient that separates great restaurants from the pretenders. These are "everyone knows your name" places where customers know other customers and are considered part of the family.
"When people eat (at our restaurants), they are eating at our home," Frank said. Nearly 30 members of the Marchetti/Tarantino clan have worked at the family's restaurants in the past two decades, Michael said, and there is at least one family member at the restaurants at most any time of the day. Whether by chance or design, this is a partnership in its truest sense. Everyone has their role and everyone is willing to pitch in wherever help is needed. Frank with his investment banking background handles financial matters. Michael, who was known to work until midnight, sleep a few hours, and hop in a van to go to Fulton Fish Market in New York to get the fresh catch, handles operations and the company's catering business. Antonio, 27, is the manager at Applausi in Greenwich.
John Paul, Rosa and Alessandro are probably not far behind their older brothers. "We all grew up with the sights and the sounds of the restaurant business," Michael said, "it's in our blood." This is a family that is so close and works so hard during the week that they don't open their restaurants on Sundays in order to spend time together. Although the second generation of Marchettis have helped modernize and grow their operations - which now includes their own truffle operation in Umbria, Italy - they are quick to credit those who came before them.
Maria is the creative, artistic force. Tony, a chemical engineer by trade who worked three jobs at one point to support the family, was the numbers cruncher and amiable front man. Michael Tarantino had the expertise in restaurants and was a "forward thinker." "We're standing on the shoulders of giants," Frank said.
In honor of their 20 years in business the family is holding an invitation-only traveling dinner on Tuesday night where some of their biggest fans will have the opportunity to sample fare at all four of the restaurants.
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The chairs are stacked on top of the tables and the front of the house is dark when Maria Marchetti and her sister-in-law, Cenzina Parisi, start cracking eggs in the kitchen at Columbus Park Trattoria each morning.
On a typical Tuesday, they mix about 30 eggs into 12 pounds of flour - a blend of durum flour and semolina that Marchetti insits upon to bring out a pale amber hue and provide a toothy bite to her pasta.
The two women - each a little more than 5 feet tall, Marchetti in orange Puma sneakers and a white chef's coat, Parisi in a flower-print apron from home - work side by side in the cramped, narrow kitchen. They barely utter a word, so familiar to them is their work. Their hands flutter over the floured wooden board that tops the stainles steel work surface as one rolls the dough through a machine and the other cuts and shapes it.
Marchetti, who owns the Stamford restaurant with her brother, Michael Tarantino, breaks her concentration intermittently to offer a warm smile and answer a few questions.
Parisi is all work. There is a lot to get done on Tuesday mornings in the four hours before the rest of the kitchen staff arrives at 10 a.m. to begin prepping for lunch and dinner. After the weekend, they're low on most of their homemade pasta staples such as linguine, fettucine and pappardelle - the widest of the long noodles on the restaurant's menu(which are especially tasty with gamy meats such as wild boar, Marchetti says). Plus, they have to make fresh supplies of their specialty pastas - cavatelli, gnocchi and ravioli.
Marchetti and Parisi make the pasta five days a week for Columbus Park and the three other restaurants Marchetti and her brother operate: Applausi in Old Greenwich, Tarantino in Westport and Maria's Trattoria in Norwalk - Marchetti's first restaurant, which turned 20 this year.
The restaurant operation has grown over the decades (and continues to grow with Tarantino scouting locations for a new eatery in the Ukraine ), but at heart it remains a small business rooted in tradition and family.
When she was 10, Marchetti moved with her family to Stamford from Bari , a city on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy , known for fishing, agriculture and its trading port. Her father was a farmer and produced all the flour and olive oil the family used.
Marchetti's uncle, Giacomo Tarantino, owner of a grocery store in Stamford (which he later sold to the Cingari family, who turned it into a Grade A supermarkets), sponsored the family's move to America.
It was Marchetti's brother who first decided he wanted to get into the restaurant business, and Marchetti soon followed, opening Maria's Trattoria on Main Street in Norwalk in 1984. She would make the pasta for the restaurant in the mornings, and work on the floor during lunch. But she made sure she was home in time for her children to get out of school.
As the restaurant empire grew, so did the Marchetti's family. Marchetti and her brother opened Columbus Park in 1986 and Applausi and Tarantino in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Meanwhile, Marchetti had six children.
"As we went along and Cenzina came to help, then I was able to do a little bit more," Marchetti says. "And the kids were born in between."
Now, three of Marchetti's five sons work at the restaurants, as does her husband, Tony.
The food the restaurants serve is based on traditional recipes Marchetti grew up with. "We all learned form our moms. We learned from the crib, just from being around it all the time," she says.
Among the specialty pastas Marchetti and Parisi are making this Tuesday are cavatelli and ravioli filled with lobster and crab.
Parisi rolls the soft pasta dough through a machine into the long sheets that she cuts by hand into 4-inch squares for the ravioli. Marchetti dollops a teaspoon of filling onto each square and folds them into triangles, carefully sealing the two open sides. Then she places four triangles, points together to form a square, on a sheet of plastic and wraps them. The labor-intensive process keeps the pasta soft until it is cooked, she says.
When the women take out the cavatelli dough - made simply of flour and water - Marchetti says this shape is in high demand in her restaurants, served with a light tomato sauce or with broccoli rabe, garlic and olive oil.
"I think people would lynch me if I didn't have it," she says.
Marchetti rolls out the cavatelli dough with an old wooden rolling pin. She cuts the long pieces into one and a half inch strips and stacks a few on top of each other. Then she takes out her long chef's knife and deftly slices matchstick pieces about a quarter-inch wide.
Once the dough is cut, Marchetti and Parisi take their places side by side. They pick up the slivers of dough and rapidly roll each one under their middle fingers into a pasta curl.
"This you don't learn in a culinary institute. This you learn from your mother," Marchetti says.
She is starting to teach the technique to the younger members of her family. "This is an art: If they don't see it, it gets lost."
In these anti-carbohydrate days, Maria is defensive about pasta's healthful qualities. "We mix pasta in my household with broccoli, cauliflower, peas, broccoli rabe, and that's not fattening," she says. "There's just a little fat," she adds, and shows how she would drizzle just a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil in the shape of a cross over a pasta dish.
Though Marchetti spends hours, five days a week, making pasta in the restaurant's kitchen, that doesn't stop her from cooking a feast from family and friends at home every Sunday.
The restaurants are closed Sundays because she is a devout Catholic, and "Sunday is family day," Marchetti says.
Marchetti teaches catechism at St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Stamford, and her youngest son, Alex, is taking confirmation classes. So on Sunday mornings, they attend church by 7:30 a.m. When they get home at about 11 a.m., Maria gets started preparing Sunday dinner.
"We do a big meal. There are never fewer than 12 people around the dinner table,: she says, glowing as she speaks of these gatherings. The crowd includes family and some of the many friends they have made over the years through the restaurants.
The three-course meals start with antipasti followed by pasta (often homemade) and then a roast - maybe veal or lamb.
"We tell her: 'Don't make (the pasta) all the time,'" her son, Michael, says.
But she hushes him with a wave of her hand. It's as if the restaurant and the family feasts aren't work for Marchetti, simply a joyous part of life.
"I'm a typical Italian, old-fashioned mother," Marchetti says proudly. "For me, it is, honestly, a labor of love."
Downtown Stamford is mostly sports bars, but it is improving, thanks in part to this trendy but comfy Italian trattoria where fantastic homemade ravioli, great osso buco, excellent braised rabbit and other wonderful dishes are 'just like mama used to make', and the good-natured staff makes you feel like family. It's small, busy and noisy, but it sure has a lot of atmosphere.
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