Sal Scognamillo is the head chef and co-owner of Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, the hangout of stars, reputed mobsters and gourmands. Founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, Patsy’s Italian Restaurant has been in its current and only theater district location (in the building just next to the original site) since 1954. Patsy’s has had only three chefs—the late Patsy himself, his son Joe Scognamillo, who has been at the establishment since the tender age of seven, and Joe’s son Sal, who has been manning the kitchen for the past 15 years.
Any tips for entertaining at home?
Try to make recipes that you can prepare mostly ahead of time so less work once guests are there. Some great appetizers and finger foods you can make ahead of time are stuffed mushrooms and figs with prosciutto and mascarpone.
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city?
What do you cook for yourself at home?
I love to cook on my outdoor grill—everything from vegetables, chicken, hamburgers, hotdogs and even desserts.
Which ingredients should everyone have in the kitchen?
Fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, canned plum tomatoes, fresh oregano, fresh rosemary, rigatoni pasta, penne pasta, parmegiano-reggiano cheese, all-purpose flour and bread crumbs.
What tool should everyone have in the kitchen?
Any tips for getting a good dinner reservation?
Ask to be placed on their cancellation list. Many people double and triple book their reservations, especially if they’re visiting from out of town, so the likelihood of getting a canceled spot is higher than you think. When you’re ready to leave, introduce yourself to the host. Let them know how much you enjoyed your meal and your evening. Establish a relationship. The more you’re seen eating or drinking at their establishment, the more likely it is they’ll look out for you.
What makes a good meal?
Great food and an attentive and knowledgeable waiter.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had? The worst?
The best meal, my favorite, is my family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner where we have the Seven Fishes of Christmas. The worst meal I ever had was at a friend’s house a few years ago where they burnt the chicken to a crisp. It was inedible.
Do you have any memorable stories from the kitchen?
The worst food memory I have happened one day at the restaurant when I put too much salt into the marinara sauce. I forgot that I had already added the salt earlier in the day. I had to make another batch of sauce and combine the two to even out the taste. It was very stressful considering I had a full dining room of hungry patrons. Another one of my most memorable experiences was, of course, cooking for Frank Sinatra.
What is the most common misconception about eating out?
The biggest misconception people have is that if your restaurant gets a degree of notoriety—like ours—that we rest on our laurels. That could be nothing further from the truth. Our food is still homemade fresh every day by me and my father. We still use the same recipes my grandfather Patsy used and we make sure that our feed meets the standards with which he founded the restaurant in 1944. Another misconception people have is the cleanliness of restaurants. Yes, restaurants can be careless, and serious illnesses have been the result of bad service practices. But sensationalism aside, restaurants compare pretty favorably in cleanliness with your average household’s kitchen.
Patsy’s Sea Trout With Roasted Onions
2 sea trout fillets, about 10-12
2 tablespoons butter
Lemon, juice of one
4 large fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small red pepper, seeded and
¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 stalks fresh asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces
Spinach, cooked to yield (tightly packed)
½ jar (about 6 ounces) drained Patsy’s
2 tablespoons white wine
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Place fillets in roasting pan with 1 tablespoon butter, lemon and ¼ cup water. Bake 10-12 minutes.
3. While baking, blanche mushrooms and red peppers in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain.
4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet (medium heat) and sauté garlic just until it begins to color (do not allow to burn). Add mushrooms, red pepper, asparagus, spinach, Patsy’s Roasted Onions, and remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet. Increase heat and sauté for an additional minute. Salt and pepper, to taste.
5. Add wine and ¼ cup of water to the vegetables and continue cooking until water evaporates and vegetables have softened.
6. Broil fish 2-3 minutes.
7. Top with seasoned bread crumbs, drizzle with olive oil and broil for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until bread crumbs have browned.
8. Plate vegetables, arranging fish on top. Garnish with parsley.
Yield: 2 servings