Is there anything fun about waiting in line? Some of life’s most abhorrent experiences involve waiting in line: at banks, DMVs, post offices, bathrooms or concession stands at sports venues. So why would anyone want to wait in line to eat at a restaurant?
Because it’s New York City’s hottest (but not really new) eaterie: Torrisi Bar & Restaurant.
Torrisi Bar & Restaurant is owned by Major Food Group, a major player in the New York City restaurant scene over the past decade-plus. The hospitality team is behind such celebrity-flocking places as Parm and Carbone and Dirty French and Sadelles, and they operate globally, in Riyadh, Doha, and Hong Kong. But this culinary “world domination” all started with Torrisi. It originally opened in 2009 with impeccable sandwiches at lunch and a fantastic prix fixe menu at dinner. It closed in 2015.
Fast forward to December 2022 and the latest iteration of Torrisi from the minds of Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick opened. It’s located in the historic Puck Building, on the northwest corner of the NoLita neighborhood. The space is a 4,000-square-foot, tablecloth-joint that might make you think Sinatra would come here (he won’t, he’s dead). The vaulted ceilings envelop the 40-seat dining room and 35-seat bar. The kitchen is open so you can spy on what’s happening in there when you’re not ogling at everything else. This is an Italian restaurant, but heavily influenced by Asian, Jewish and Jamaican ingredients.
We tried getting there as close to five o’clock as possible, but when we walked along the alley-looking Jersey Street, we were met at the corner of Mulberry Street with the back of a line that was about 40 people deep. You sensed that everyone was excited to go inside this gastronomic utopia because this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The line moved rather quickly – it took us about 15 minutes to get to the front. But that didn’t mean we were going inside to be seated. No, no, no! We didn’t have a reservation (go on, you try snagging one, even at 5 p.m. or 10.30 p.m.), so this simply was the next phase in our quest. The front door was opened by a woman wearing all black. We stood in the vestibule while the party in front of us was being tended to. Then, another door opened for us, but opportunity did not come knocking. Instead, this was just to add our names to the waitlist… for seats at the bar! At 8:30 p.m.!
A three-hour wait?
What the heck were we supposed to do for the next three hours? We could have bailed and had dinner elsewhere, anywhere (Parm just happens to be down the street), but we decided to stick it out. Luckily, Torrisi is in a neighborhood where killing time is a sport. A solid hour at the McNally-Jackson bookstore around the corner, then to Von on Bleecker a few blocks away for a cocktail and a snack to tide us over.
We returned to the sacred Torrisi around 8:15 p.m. A hostess (one of three) welcomed us back and escorted us to the next phase in our evening: the waiting area. This is where the spending begins. This section is three, or four (I couldn’t count as I was distracted by just about everything) rectangular high-top tables where some guy crept up to take our drink order (house negroni, $20; glass of Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2021 from Marlborough, New Zealand, $22).
We were eventually shown to a small area at the end of the beautiful bar that can comfortably fit four people standing. We ordered two specialties: Italian and American Hams, which were bountiful, with Zeppole ($25) and Charred Clam Boule ($16 per piece). One was Italian, and smoky, the other, American and from… drum roll please… KENTUCKY! Forget bourbon. The Bluegrass State is prosciutto country!
The zeppole were unlike any that you would find at a street fair. They were fried, but to perfection – light and airy like tiny, round pillows (minus the confectionary sugar).
The clams came served piled high atop an English muffin. The bottom of my muffin was a bit burnt, yet the whole muffin was under-toasted, so it wasn’t structurally sound to hold all the clams, albeit there were a lot of clams. But all the nooks and crannies were filled with the juices and flavors from the clams. I’d be in bivalve heaven if the clams were served in a bowl with a spoon.
We couldn’t help noticing the size of the staff — it could outnumber a college football team! Their hospitality was top-shelf. One of the hostesses came to update us on our bar seats. “We’re just waiting for them to pay,” she said.
We sat down in two low-back, but well-cushioned seats and noticed two poorly positioned, yet occupied tables: one a four-top right next to the hostess stand and front door, the other a deuce in a corner, next to a wine fridge that opened on you. Both show Torrisi can and will pack this place until it can’t.
Charlie was our bartender / server. Despite having stains all over his jacket, he was more polished than your grandmother’s silver, and a big fan of everything we ordered.
What to eat at Torrisi Bar & Restaurant
Chopped Liver with Manischewitz ($21)
Manischewitz wine has been the butt of jokes for decades, so if a dish is being made with it, it must be playful. We had to try it. I was expecting the liver to be warm, but it was cold, but still worth writing about. The way the Manischewitz is incorporated into this dish combined with the texture of the liver, made this taste like a PB&J on toast points.
Octopus Nha Trang ($32)
Our other antipasti is inspired by the namesake Chinatown restaurant. The slightly charred octopus was not as buttery soft – or as bountiful – as I was expecting, but the Asian flavors took me on a trip to the Far East.
Raviolini with Prawns and Saffron ($34)
These were perhaps the greatest ravioli, or any kind of dumpling, I’ve ever had! The prawn occupied the entire interior and cooked perfectly. I rank this as the best dish we had.
Rotisserie Porchetta ($41)
The porchetta, even with its cracklin’ skin, melted in my mouth, and was better than any porchetta I ever had in Italy, however, at least a third of the piece was all fat. This dish has limited availability.
Oyster mushrooms ($18)
I was never a big fan of mushrooms until I had these. A wonderful mouthfeel and perhaps more enjoyable than actual oysters.
We were too full to order dessert or an amaro, which is a shame because Torrisi has my favorite kind of Faccia Brutto. Mini Italian lemon ices are brought as a palette cleanser. This was the best damn Italian ice I ever had. At least we witnessed one dessert being enjoyed: the affogato ($17). It’s served in a big-ass martini glass and large enough to share with the entire waitlist.
We were seated at the bar for about 90 minutes, which is the amount of time Torrisi allocates for bar seating. It didn’t feel too long or too short. All the dishes and courses were spaced out perfectly. The lighting at the bar was not too dark, but much brighter than the surrounding tables which appeared as if those guests need a flashlight to view the menu. There was certainly a din throughout the dining room, but I was able to have a conversation with my wife and heard everything Charlie was saying to us from the other side of the bar. The music, from what I remember, was good and the volume was perfect. Though I didn’t hear any Sinatra…
Torrisi Bar & Restaurant
275 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
212 254 3000