It’s no small feat to garner a devout following and a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant by proudly proclaiming your love for ingredients like canned California olives and Progresso bread crumbs. But that’s in part what Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, the French-trained, roots-reclaiming chef-partners behind Torrisi Italian Specialties—sub shop by day, inspired Italian-American prix fixe by night—have done. Next up: an expansion on the theme called Parm, a larger adjacent space that will, come summer, house an open kitchen, about 35 seats, and—the partners hope—a full bar serving riffs on classic cocktails. (That should give the masses waiting for tables at T.I.S. something to do besides shoot flames from their eyes at those lingering over their rainbow cookies.) It’s not just a matter of adding more seats, though; with Parm, Torrisi and Carbone are giving each of their distinctive concepts its own address, and their clientele some breathing room. “We have two clearly delineated types of customers,” says Carbone, speaking of the frenetic lunch crowd. “They either want to sit and relax or they want to get back to their office, and we’re really not making either one of them happy.” How exactly will Parm do that? By expanding on Torrisi’s existing lunch menu with hot appetizers and hot plates, instituting table service for both lunch and dinner, and relegating all takeout transactions to a window up front. “It’ll be like the old pizzerias, like Stromboli on St. Marks,” says Carbone. During recipe development, Torrisi regulars can expect to sample trial versions of new dishes destined for the Parm menu—sandwich additions like chicken francese, a mid-century invention described by food writer John Mariani as “one of the real clichés of Italian-American cookery,” and meatball, based on a three-meat Carbone-family recipe. Nine or so options will come on a roll, a hero, or a platter, the last served with that iceberg assemblage lovingly referred to in Italian-American enclaves as Sunday salad (a “holiday salad” is a meat-and-cheese-festooned upgrade). Hot-plate dinner specials likewise celebrate the oft-maligned, much-loved foods of the chefs’ youths, from pork-chop pizzaiola to chicken cacciatore. “We love that stuff, we love that style, but we want it to taste good,” says Carbone. The partners’ approach to Parm’s design is just as retro. “We want it to look like your uncle’s basement bar,” says Torrisi—provided your uncle was partial to wood wainscoting, cushioned diner-style stools, and lots of neon signage. Family memories are also entwined in another delicacy that speaks to the chefs’ souls and sends Proustian shivers up and down their spines: the Carvel ice-cream cake, to be reinterpreted at Parm by new pastry chef Pam Yung, a veteran of Roberta’s and Tailor, who will also upgrade the desserts next door. And speaking of Torrisi Italian Specialties, changes are afoot there as well. Once Parm opens, Carbone and Torrisi will renovate the flagship to make it more comfortable and launch a lunchtime version of the dinner prix fixe. They’re even tinkering with a longer, more leisurely tasting menu of ten to twelve courses, and entertaining the notion of taking reservations for that option. Almost against their will, says Torrisi, “it’s turning into a real restaurant.”
Coming Attraction: Would You Like a Little Cheese on That?
The radically reinventive chefs of Torrisi Italian Specialties reveal their plans for Parm.
248 Mulberry St., nr. Prince St.
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