"A Warm Welcome and a Spirited Chef"
March 4, 2011
The NY Times, By Emily De Nitto
THESE days, when waiters bring out a cake with candles and sing “Happy Birthday” to a customer, most other diners barely lift their heads. It’s hard to get anyone to sing along, even those at the birthday person’s own table.
Not so at Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant in Larchmont.
Most diners seem to know Anna Maria Santorelli, the chef and owner, who spends a lot of time in the dining room, schmoozing. People chat across the intimate space, which seats about 40 in happy proximity to one another. And when one diner is being sung to, as happened on a recent evening, the whole restaurant joins in with lyrics and applause.
That is partly because of the feel of the place, which is unpretentious and comfortable, painted an improbable red and pink with lots of personal photos and sayings like “La Dolce Vita” and “Celebrate Life” hung on the walls. But it is also a result of the cooking, which at its best produces soul-sustaining Italian-New York comfort food.
Rigatoni Bolognese was thick and meaty, with a terrific tomato sauce that tasted as if it had been slow-cooked for hours. So too the spaghetti with hearty but tender beef meatballs. Dishes that are often greasy or too sweet were carefully prepared. They included an appetizer of fried calamari that was light and crispy, and another appetizer, eggplant parmigiana, made with plenty of layers and just the right ratio of vegetable, sauce and cheese. Grilled hanger steak was juicy and served with an earthy brown sauce and nicely sautéed broccoli rabe.
There’s some daring from the kitchen, which produced a wonderful special of polenta with wild mushrooms and spicy sausage on a recent evening. Veal martini came with a hearty dose of lemon squeezed on top, a sharp and welcome counterpoint to the crispy parmigiana cheese and white wine. Lemon, bracing arugula and sweet balsamic vinaigrette brought drama to the mild chicken and mozzarella cubes in the pollo capricciosa, which can be boring if not done right.
Some dishes could have used a little more of that oomph. The braised rabbit barely registered, and it came with a creamy polenta that did nothing to raise the taste level. The tilapia, though prepared with olives and capers in a marinara sauce, had too little flavor. And though a recent salad special of roasted beets with mesclun and goat cheese was satisfying, most of the salads were nice palate clearers, not substantial explorations of the category.
But Ms. Santorelli knows how to do sweet dishes. Her recent special of pumpkin mascarpone ravioli — fat and yielding — came in a wild-mushroom brown sauce that kept the entree from becoming a dessert. And her desserts are uniformly delicious. They include a subtle migliaccio (ricotta semolina pie); smooth panna cotta; fresh cannoli; and rich, soft brownies served with vanilla ice cream.
Born in Naples, Italy, and raised in Brooklyn since she was 10, Ms. Santorelli herself is, well, sweet. She is clearly passionate about her work. She has cooked for several New York City mayors. One, Rudolph W. Giuliani, named her not only executive chef but also chief administrator of Gracie Mansion, in part as a nod to her way with people.
Ms. Santorelli appeared in January on the Food Network cooking competition “Chopped,” coming in second after she cut her hand, limiting her. “You’ve got some spirit,” one of the judges said. It’s that spirit that makes Anna Maria’s so appealing.
Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant
18 Chatsworth Avenue
THE SPACE A sweet, quirky and welcoming box of a room done in reds and pinks with lots of family photos scattered around — except in the pretty bathrooms, where photos of Sophia Loren (in the men’s room) and Ms. Loren with Marcello Mastroianni and other men (in the women’s room) dominate. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Mostly couples and groups of friends. Lots of chatting across tables and with the owner-chef, who spends a lot of time in the dining room.
THE BAR Thirteen predominantly red, mostly Italian wines by the bottle, from a $29 Chianti to a $90 Brunello di Montalcino; $7 to $8 for a limited offering of wines by the glass. Mixed and soft drinks available.
THE BILL Entrees from $22 to $30. Major credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Roasted beets with mesclun and goat cheese (special), fried calamari, eggplant parmigiana, polenta with sausage and wild mushrooms (special), baked clams; rigatoni Bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, pumpkin mascarpone ravioli (special), veal martini, chicken capricciosa, hanger steak; migliaccio, tiramisù, panna cotta, cannoli, brownie with vanilla ice cream.
IF YOU GO Open Tuesday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended on weekends. Street parking only.
RATINGS Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., Don’t Bother.
Local chefs take on "Chopped"
March 30, 2011
The Journal News, By Katherine Ann Samon
If you watch the Food Network, chances are you've seen "Chopped."
And if you live in the Lower Hudson Valley, chances are you've seen some of your favorite local chefs cooking on the show.
They've cursed. They've cried. They've cut themselves. But none has gone home a champion.
"Chopped" is a cooking competition, a mini-version of "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef" combined, where chef-contestants race against the clock to prepare dishes for judges. They either make it to the next round — or they're chopped.
Now in its sixth season, it has more than 20 million viewers each month and is one of Food Network's highest-rated primetime shows. It's proved so popular that there have been spin-off specials. One, "Chopped All-Stars," where Food Network stars, celebrity chefs and chef-judges from "Chopped" compete for a $50,000 prize for charity, has its finale on Sunday.
For our local talent, the spin-off special means the tables have turned, at least this once. The chef-contestants will be watching from the comfort of their couches as other contestants — those celebrity chefs, TV stars, and the same chef-judges who once critiqued our local chefs' dishes — will be sweating it out behind the stove.
"Now they're in my shoes, they're going to see how difficult it is to work under the clock," says Anna Maria Santorelli of Anna Maria's Italian Restaurant in Larchmont, who was on an episode earlier this season, and badly cut her finger. "To be so judgemental — and now they have to do the same thing? I love it!"
"It's neat to see them sweat," says John-Michael Hamlet, chef-owner of John-Michael's Restaurant in North Salem, who was on a show that aired in season three and was portrayed as the bad guy. "I think they understand more what we go through."
What the chef-contestants go through is a grueling day of shooting. While the show is only an hour, it takes hours and hours to get all the background stories, behind-the scenes shots and emotional reactions on camera. And there are three quick but difficult real-time rounds of cooking: 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer, 30 minutes each for an entrée and dessert. But of course there's a twist. They must use a mystery basket of surprise ingredients — often ones that don't go well together, like mussels and marshmallows — and they don't get to open the basket until the clock starts. Dishes are scored on presentation, taste and creativity.
Chop this: Our Hudson Valley chefs tell it like it was
Anna Maria Santorelli
Anna Maria's Italian Restaurant, 18 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont. 914-833-0555; annamariasrestaurant.com
Training: New York Restaurant School in Manhattan
Chopped: On the entrée round
Biggest challenge: Injuring myself on the first round.
Biggest blunder: Not slicing my meat properly. I was afraid my knife would injure me again.
Best compliment: They loved all my sauces on the plate. And my spirit and determination.
Advice: Don't have fear of competing, just be focused.
Behind the scenes: You're doing your interviews again and again — it's like being an actor and being coached. It's time-consuming, and you don't know what to expect. It's very stressful.
Do it again? I am doing it again! I'm filming in June.
Episode: 605 "Doughs and Don'ts" (repeats at 10 p.m. April 9 and 1 a.m. April 10).
Dish Bistro & Wine Bar, 947 South Lake Boulevard, Mahopac. 845-621-3474; dishmahopac.com
Cuisine: New American with a European flair
Chopped: On the entrée round
Biggest challenge: Not having the right knives. I brought one instead of my entire set.
Biggest blunder: Not properly butchering or cooking the mackerel in the entrée round.
Best compliment: I definitely got A+ for creativity. And good use of Asian flavors. First round, for being a risk taker.
Advice: Be aware of time. You have 30 seconds to see the kitchen and then it's like, "Open the basket, go!"
Behind the scenes: It is a really long day. Producers interview you separately to get you to say negative things about your opponent.
Do it again? I would do it again.
Episode: 313 "Chopped Liver"
John-Michael's Restaurant, 100 Titicus Road, North Salem. 914-277-2301; johnmichaelsrestaurant.com
Cuisine: Modern European in a bistro style
Training: Le Cordon Bleu in London, and Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park
Chopped: On the appetizer round
Biggest challenge: Timing — the time went by faster than I assumed. I didn't make it past the first round. Another challenge was to not to look like a jerk. I argued with the judges.
Biggest blunder: Not cooking the bacon well enough, and still putting it on the plate even though it was not necessary.
Best compliment: I utilized all my ingredients in new and inventive ways, such as poaching the chicken livers rather than searing them.
Advice: Just be yourself with your food. And don't go out of the box.
Behind the scenes: I didn't know Ted Allen wears black Converse All Stars. He wears a suit top, jeans and All Stars.
Do it again? In a heartbeat. I've got to redeem myself. I'm not scared.
Episode: 313 "Chopped Liver"
Ripe Kitchen and Bar, 151 West Sandford Blvd., Mount Vernon. 914-665-7689; riperestaurant.com
Cuisine: Caribbean with a twist
Training: Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park
Chopped: On the entrée round
Biggest challenge: I worried if I was going to get the pasta cooked in time, which is why no one else attempted it. I just knew that the pasta would put me out in front.
Biggest blunder: Since I had three judges to please and not just one, maybe I should have cut back on the spices a little bit since during the first round a judge said my dish was too spicy.
Best compliment: Judge Aarón Sánchez said my spices were spot-on and enjoyed the balance of the spice and sweetness of the dish.
Advice: Watch as many episodes as you can to get a feel for the format and what you can say. Don't shy away from the cameras, forgetting to speak up. It's not a joke — people might claim you're told the ingredients beforehand. You're not. It really is exactly as it appears on TV.
Behind the scenes: I was on the very first episode. We were the guinea pigs. The producers were brand new. We had to constantly redo things like camera angles because they were figuring out the show as we went along.
Do it again? I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'd love to come back and redeem myself.
Episode: 101 "Chocolate, Mussels and Figs"
“Meet six women who found success with restaurants in Westchester, Rockland”
February 5, 2012
The Journal News, By Xavier Mascareñas
Anna Maria Santorelli, who led the kitchen in Gracie Mansion under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is chef and owner at Anna Maria’s in Larchmont.
Owned it since: 2006
Life before the restaurant biz: Executive chef (and later, chief administrator) at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Gracie Mansion. “I worked under Giuliani for two terms: It was exciting. I cooked for movie stars like Barbra Streisand, presidents and mayors. Most of the time I didn’t know who was coming to dinner.”
What made her do it: “I always had a dream of opening a restaurant, but I was never ready,” says Santorelli. Not only do you have to be financially grounded, but you have to find the right location at the right time. I wanted as much experience in the field as possible before taking such a risk,” she says. Santorelli moved to Westchester in 2004 and began networking and researching. Eventually, she found her space, negotiated and got it. “You feel it when it’s right,” she says.
How she describes her restaurant:“It’s like my home. It’s kind of charming and warm and cozy. The food is classic Neapolitan cuisine — red sauce pasta, mozzarella, the basics of the southern Italian cooking.”
What she loves about owning it: “Well, my passion is cooking. So every day I get to do what I love the most. I’m creative. I love my loyal customers. They appreciate the quality of my cooking and they tell me about it. My job is not boring. No two days are ever the same,” she laughs.
The challenges: “You want to make sure you’re running a professional place,” she says. “Being both owner and chef means I have no life. It’s hard to have a family because you have no time on your hands. I work 14 hours a day, six days a week,” she says. “I have a great staff, and finding a great staff is the most difficult part of the job,” says Santorelli.
On being a woman in a man’s world: “Finding good suppliers and negotiating with them is hard — especially if you’re a woman,” says Santorelli. “They think you don’t have as much experience as a male and can’t negotiate with them the same way. I like working with men, but you have to let them know who’s in charge. They’ll respect you. It was the same when I worked for the mayor — people always asking for ‘him,’ (the chef) when really they were looking for ‘her.’ ”
Advice to other women: Set boundaries with your staff and your suppliers on what’s negotiable and what isn’t. “If you don’t set boundaries, they will step all over you. I’m flexible, I’m easygoing, but I’ve got to get the job done,” says Santorelli. “I treat people with respect, but I command respect, too. This is my show,” she says. Be determined and never give up, she adds. “Do it because you love it — you have to love it, you spend long hours working. This is your life,” she says.
What she recommends at Anna Maria’s: The Eggplant Parmigiana. “People are always surprised, because it’s not heavy. It’s my mom’s recipe,” says Santorelli. “It’s prepared very thin and delicate.” Or, try the signature dish: Crabmeat and shrimp and shiitake mushroom in a light tomato sauce over linguine.
See Santorelli in action: Anna Maria’s, 18 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont; 914-833-0555; annamariasrestaurant.com
Anna Maria Santorelli of Anna Maria's-Patch heads into the kitchen to talk food and passion with local restaurateurs.
May 21, 2010
Larchmont-Mamaroneck Patch By, By Jerry Eimbinder
The New York City police officer signaled the approaching van to stop. "I'm sorry, miss," he said, "you can't go downtown." But after the woman displayed her credentials, he let her pass through the barriers. The woman was Anna Maria Santorelli, chef to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, on her way to set up an emergency kitchen at the mayor's 9/11 control center.
Several days later, on September 23, 2001, Anna Maria was again called upon to organize a makeshift kitchen. This time it was in a locker room at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Relatives and friends of the Twin Towers victims had gathered for a memorial service called "Remembrance."
Oprah Winfrey addressed the crowd. "Every one of those people who got up last Tuesday, no doubt thought it was going to be an ordinary day, and by 8:48, we all knew nothing was ordinary anymore," she said. "We all know for sure now how fragile, how uncertain, yet extraordinary, life can be. May we always remember." Afterwards, Oprah sat quietly in the locker room as she ate a lunch prepared for her by Anna Maria.
Anna Maria was ten years old when her parents arrived from Naples in America with their five children (three boys and two girls) and settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. While a student at Grover Cleveland High School at the age of 17, she worked during her lunch hour and after school at her brother Alfonso's restaurant.
She attended the New York Restaurant School and prior to graduation, served a three-month unpaid internship at the Gramercy Park restaurant La Colombe d'Or. Following graduation, she joined the kitchen staff at Coco Pazzo, a Tuscan cuisine restaurant in Manhattan, and advanced to assistant pastry chef and saucier. After a friend told her about an opening at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor of New York City since 1942, she interviewed and was hired as a prep cook. Several promotions followed and eventually she advanced to executive chef and chief administrator--in charge of both the kitchen and event planning.
Anna Maria served three mayors--David Dinkins, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. She fed many celebrities during her 13 years at Gracie Mansion, including actors Harrison Ford, Danny DeVito and Woody Harrelson; singer/actress Barbra Streisand; actor/comedian Billy Crystal; operatic tenors Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti; film director Francis Ford Coppola; and John Kennedy, Jr.
Visitors from overseas, including heads of state, were popular guests at Gracie Mansion, too. Anna Maria often kept the menu simple and wholesome. When Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, then president of Italy, came to dine with Mayor Giuliani one evening in 1996, she served gemelli (two strands of pasta twisted together) with grilled chicken and vegetables, and fresh fruit and biscotti for dessert.
She catered a victory party for the New York Rangers hockey team when it defeated Vancouver to capture the Stanley Cup in 1994. She also catered actor Tony Randall's marriage in 1995 at age 77 to actress Heather Harlan (50 years his junior). Mayor Giuliani performed the ceremony.
She treasures a kiss from music industry legend Andrea Bocelli, blind since the age of 12, given in appreciation for a breakfast she prepared in his honor in October 1999.
After Giulliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, she helped him change his diet and introduced well-thought-out and heathy new gastronomic experiences to Gracie Mansion, such as dishes prepared with tofu and soy. Anna Maria's job was very demanding. Seven-day work weeks were common. She not only worked in Gracie Mansion, she lived there, too.
She continued to serve in Michael Bloomberg's administration, but one day a new challenge presented itself: she accepted an offer from Donald Trump and joined Trump Grill in time to oversee food preparation for the staff and participants of the first program in The Apprentice television series in 2004.
Decorating the walls wasn't a problem when she opened Anna Maria's in Larchmont in 2006. Her collection of autographed photos of Gracie Mansion visitors, from politicians to show business elite, filled all the available space. But as the days drew near for the restaurant's grand opening, a new opportunity came her way.
Unexpectedly, a job offer arrived from the George W. Bush White House. Flattered, Anna Maria says she was tempted and might have accepted it had it come a few months earlier, but by that time her heart was set on having her own restaurant. Following a warm reception from the Larchmont community, she says, "I knew I had made the right decision."
Pollo capriccioso (sauteed chicken topped with arugula, cut tomato and fresh mozzarella in balsamic vinaigrette) and pollo scarpariello (chicken, including bone, with sausage slices, peppers and silver-dollar-sized potato thins with red wine vinegar sauce) vie for recognition as the restaurant's signature dish.
"The menu changes seasonally," says Anna Maria, "but if a special catches on, I'll add it to the menu." This was the case recently for Passion Pasta, a vegetarian pasta dish made with diced eggplant, diced mushrooms, ricotta cheese and homemade tomato sauce.
In early July, friends and relatives will attend a by-invitation-only fourth anniversary party for the restaurant.
Active with Westchester County charities and a strong food bank supporter, what's next for Anna Maria? A cookbook is in the early stages of preparation.
"It will include many recipes I haven't used since I left Gracie Mansion," she says.
Larchmont , NY 10538 914.833.0555
Wednesday, Thursday: 5pm–9:30pm
Friday, Saturday: 4:30pm–10pm