Rocco's Italian Inspiration
Rocco DiSpirito, star of NBC's The Restaurant, filmed the reality show in his kitschy Manhattan trattoria, Rocco's (12 E. 22nd St.; 212/353-0500; dinner for two $70). There he riffs on his Italian-American heritage: eggplant parmigiana, Foosball, and Capodimonte figurines. Now that you've seen his mother, Nicolina, making meatballs and his uncle Giuseppe pouring homemade wine, T+L asked the young chef from Queens to dish about the places that inspired his most recent project. Here's what he had to say:
"To come up with our menu, my mother, my brother, and I visited Sicily, Naples, Rome, and Avellino, close to where my parents are from, in Campania. In Rome, I love Al Moro [13 Vicolo delle Bollette; 39-06/678-3495; $118], because it's like a gentlemen's club, with old-world service. You can't beat the pizza bianca at Il Forno Campo de' Fiori [22 Campo de' Fiori; 39-06/6880-6662; $2.50]. There's something about the dough that makes it delicious. Il Gastronomo [Via SS.164, Ponteromito; 39-0827/67009; $82] and Ristorante Oasis-Sapori Antichi [10 Via Provinciale; 39-0827/97021; $80] in Avellino serve the authentic Campanian dishes—almost as good as my mother's."
Located in the village of Ponteromito and operating since 1908, this restaurant serves traditional, regional dishes. Homemade pasta dishes, like ricotta-stuffed ravioli topped with a walnut and mushroom sauce, are specialties. There is a culinary emphasis on ingredients from other towns in the Campania region, such as lamb from Carmasciano or polenta with ricotta from Montella. The two dining rooms are spacious, with cloth-covered tables and wood chairs set against tiled floors. A small, wood porch seats diners in warm weather, and an on-site wine cellar stocks regional and national wines.
Il Forno Campo de' Fiori
Located in the piazza and open-air market of the same name, Il Forno Campo de' Fiori specializes in baked goods—in particular, cookies, bread, and pizza. The piazza bianca—a flatbread sprinkled with sea salt and doused in extra virgin olive oil—becomes the base for pizzas topped with fresh ingredients and baked as a long rectangle. Order by using hand signals to indicate the slice-size preferred (price is based on weight). Il Forno is usually jam-packed with tourists, but take-out orders wrapped in brown paper allow a quick getaway. The bakery is next door and turns out a variety of sandwiches, biscuits, and pastries.
Ristorante Oasis-Sapori Antichi
Throughout the Campania region of southern Italy, the Fischetti family is famous for their restaurant in Vallesaccarda Avellino, which for three generations has served Irpinian dishes like ricotta ravioli in walnut sauce, fusilli with artichokes and lamb meatballs, and rabbit in spicy tomato sauce — all locally sourced and prepared in a kitchen full of grandmothers according to traditional methods. The dining room is warm and familial and sports an elegant blend of tangerine walls, dark wood furniture, and white linens. A gift shop sells farm-fresh jams, honey, wine, and oil.
Along one of the less traveled side streets near the Trevi Fountain, Al Moro was a 1970’s hotbed for dining Italian filmmakers like Federico Fellini. Opened by Moro in 1929, the eponymous restaurant is now operated by his son Franco, serving the same traditional Roman cuisine in a mostly unchanged dining room. The typically decorated space of Italian posters and artwork, hardwood floors, and bottles of wine on shelves, is narrow and bright. Local residents, seasoned tourists, and celebrities like Ellen Degeneres enjoy signatures like spaghetti alla Moro with egg, crispy artichokes, and roasted baby goat with rosemary.