Dinner at GINO'S
Lexington Avenue, New York NY
Excerpt of Daniel Bellino-Zwicke 's latest Cookbook, SEGRETO ITALIANO
Secret Recipes & Favorite Italian Dishes, from Broadway Fifth Press
Segreto? It’s secret in Italian. I got the idea for the book one day. Well not the idea, but inspiration I’d say. I was thinking about one of our all time favorites restaurant, the food, the ambiance and all the fun we’d had there over the years. Many wonderful meals with family and friend, no foes. Dinners with Cousin Joe, Sister Barbara, Brother Michael, and Jimmy. Oh, the food was wonderful, all the great Italian Classics of good old Italian-American Red Sauce Joints of which this one, was one of the best. The classics, like: Baked Clams, Stuffed Artichokes, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Linguine with Clam Sauce, Chicken Parmigiano, Veal Marsal & Milanese, Chicken Cacctiatore, Ossobuco, Cannolis, Spumoni, and-on-and-on. I think you get the picture. Lots of good, affordable Italian Wine, the affable waiter, the phone booth, and the Zebra Wall Paper. If you were a regular their, from the last sentence, you the place I’m talking about. Yes Gino’s! Our beloved Gino’s of Lexington Avenue. Sadly they closed a few years ago. But we still have the memories of so many festive meals. Happy times, good eats.
I discovered the wonders of Gino’s and first brought my cousin Joe there in 1999. The place was thrilling in that, when you walked in, you felt your were in the perfect place. Gino’s is charged with energy by its wonderful clientele, well-healed regulars who have been going there for years, they know the Maitre’d, the waiters and other customers, and likewise the waiters, bartender, and maitre’d know them. The first time you walk in, you feel that, and want to be a part of it. We did. Back then, Joe and I used to go out to eat together all the time, at least once a week. Joe knew about food, but not to the extent that I did. Joe would come in every week or so, and his driver would drive us around town. He’d pick me up early evening for a night of feasting and good times. We’d often eat at a couple different place. We’d have our main dinner and maybe a little bite to eat when we first went for cocktails to start the night off. As I said, Joe loved eating, and knew quite a bit, but as much as he knew, it wasn’t a third of what I knew about food, wine, and restaurants, and especially the restaurant, bar, and night club scene in New York. I was teaching Joe the ropes, so-to-speak, and Joe was an eager student. We had quite a lot of fun those few years, with dinners at Gino’s, Elio’s (Mondays for Lasagna), Da Silvanos’s, Bar Pitti, The Waverly Inn, Minetta Tavern, cocktails at Pegu and Temple Bar, and way too many other places to name right here. We did New York, we did it all!
Back to Gino’s. So I had passed by Gino’s any number of times, but never went in to check it out. I was a downtowner, and that’s where we did most of our eating, with an occasional trip midtown or other local if a place peaked our interest. So I did finally walk into Gino’s one day. I had to check it out. When I did, as I’ve already said, I walked in the door and immediately felt the energy of the place. Gino’s was packed, full of life and vibrant, and I knew I wanted to be there. I didn’t eat there right then and there, I was scouting the place out, but I knew I would be back. So I called Joe up and told him all about the place. It sounded great to Joe, this type of place was right up his alley, as it was mine. So Joe said yes, let’s check it out on our next night out.
Our first ever trip to Gino’s was a few nights later. Joe packed me up at my place in Greenwich Village. I got in the car, as usual, we had a little discussion on what we’d be doing. We mapped out the night of eating and drinking, good times. We talked and decided to head over to Otto Enoteca for a bottle of wine and some Salumi before heading up town to Gino’s and our main dinner of the night. Joe loved Otto, and I was a fan too, so we headed to Otto.
Well, we went to Otto, drank a little wine, had some Testa, Mortadella, and Prosciutto, and it was on to Gino’s. Back in the car, and Ziggy (our driver) drove us up to Lexington Avenue, across the street from Bloomingdale’s to Gino’s. We were excited as we walked up to the restaurant and through the door. The place was packed and super-charged. We loved it. The Maitre’d greeted us with the first of many warm welcomes. We were In Like Flynn. We sat down at a nice table in the middle of the restaurant. We were happy campers. As happy as can be, for we sensed a wonderful meal ahead. Our hunch would turn out to be just right. A waiter came to our table, greeted us a warm welcome, gave us a wine list and menus, and asked what type of water we wanted. As always, we got a bottle of flat water. Joe gave me the wine list as he usually does and told me to pick something out. I looked over the reasonably priced list and picked out a tried and true wine from my good friend Luigi Cappellini in Greve. The wine, a bottle of Verrazzano Chianti Classico. The waiter went to get the wine, and Joe and I looked over the menu. We were happy to see a great old school Italian menu. The Red Sauce kind of a good old classic Italian-American joint, of which there used to be many, but at this point of time, far fewer. They had; Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Clams, Hot Antipasto, Clams Posillipo, Spaghetti Vongole, Lasagna, Canneloni, Veal Parm, Veal Milanese, Eggplant Parmigiano, Shrimp Fra Diavolo, Veal Marsala, Scampi, and all the usual suspects. We were in heaven, and it was heard narrowing down what to eat.
One dish really caught our attention, and especially Joe, who although I love my pasta, Joe had has me beat, he’s the pasta freak. Freak in a good way that is. The dish was Pasta Segrete (Pasta w/Secret Sauce), and us intrigued.
The waiter brought the bottle of Chianti, opened it, and we were on our way. I ripped off a piece of bread and ate it. So, we decided on the menu. We ordered a Shrimp Cocktail and Baked Clams Oreganata to start. We would share these two antipasto items, then move on to the Primi, the pasta course. We decided on, and just had to have the Pasta Segrete, a half order each. We both love Veal Milanese (Frank Sinatra’s favorite), and as we were having antipasto, and pasta, as well as a couple desserts, we decided on one Veal Milanese to split for the main course, thus leaving room for some tasty desserts we knew Gino’s would have. We talked with the our waiter about the menu, and he agreed that we had chosen wisely, and that one Milanese would be fine, so we could eat dessert and he’d help us pick the two best later.
So we drank wine, and nibble on the bread, chatted and waited in anticipation for the antipasto to arrive. I love Shrimp Cocktail since childhood and don’t always eat it all that much these days, so it’s always a special treat. The Baked Clams and the Shrimp Cocktail came and were a great way to start the meal. The wine was great. Hey it’s Castello Verrazzno!
So now, we were really excited. This mysterious Pasta Segrete was about to come out. You can get the Secret Sauce with whatever Pasta you like, Spaghetti, Raviolis, Tagiolini, Penne, Gnocchi, or Rigatoni. Joe and I both love Rigatoni, so that’s what we went for, two half portions of Rigatoni Segrete. Well, the waiter brought us our Pasta with Secret Sauce. Guess what! It was outrageous, we loved it. Joe went crazy, and could stop talking about it, and it was just a couple weeks before he’d have to go back and get another “Fix.” Yes the Pasta with the Secret Sauce did not disappoint. We loved it, and would be back for many more bowls.
We finished the Pasta, grudgingly so, as we didn’t want the experience to end, “It was that good!” We waited a few minutes for the Veal Milanese. It came out, and we could tell just by looking at it, that it would be great. For those of you who might not know, Veall Milanese is one of Italy’s most famous a classic of all dishes. It’s a Veal Chop that’s pounded thin, breaded with breadcrumbs and fried and tipped with a Salad of Arugala and Tomato. The dish is simple, simply delicious when done right. Veal Milanese was one of Frank Siantra’s all-time favorite dish, along with Spaghetti Meatballs, and Clams Posillipo. Frank used to get it often at his favorite of all restaurants, Patsy’s of West 56th Street, just 10 blocks from Gino’s. Both old-school Italian Joints were amongst Frank’s favorites. Patsy’s was Frank’s # 1 favorite, but Gino’s wasn’t far behind, and Ol’ Bue Eyes ate there many times over the years. Anyway, the Veal Milanese was just perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, life is good at times like these.
We finished our Veal Milanese, and it was now time to think about desserts. I love sweets and so does Joe, so he said we gotta get two. The waiter told us the Tiramisu was “The Best in Town,” and the Cheesecake was really wonderful as well, so we went with his suggestions. Throw in a couple cups of Espresso and some Anisette too, and we were still in heaven.
Needless to say, our meal was fantastic. We loved it. We loved Gino’s and would be back for more.
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