Casa Amore: Where Love Is An Important Ingredient

amore2Love is the theme at the new Casa Amore in Pelham. Even the poster board menus carry the heart and love motif. Two large planters with colorful blossoms as well as greens and pansies line the building’s façade and announce the arrival of spring. Yes, we have arrived at the new Casa Amore in Pelham – now the totally renovated former site of Villa Nova who occupied the site for forty seven years. The dining room seats over 100 guests and a large bar shares the room. A beamed ceiling, wood and mustard colored painted arches add character to the large space. At the back is a handsome red tile wood burning pizza oven where a large variety of pizzas and many roasted dishes are prepared. Crisp linens and fresh flowering plants give the tables a festive appearance. There are also two banquet rooms upstairs, each seating over 100 guests.

Growing up, wwner Christopher Gizzo worked aside his father in the restaurant business. He has had extensive experience in nightclubs, fast food, banquet preparation and restaurant management. His most recent project was to open Casa Amore. “ A successful restauranteur must love what he does. You must be passionate and have pride in your work, be serious and treat your guests and staff well. Our atmosphere is upbeat and not stuffy. We offer classic and innovative dishes. Given the chance, I would have loved to serve Aretha Franklin and Denzel Washington, who both had and have a great appreciation of good food. Our goal is to provide our guests with a dining experience that is above and beyond their expectations and to make people happy.”

As I settled myself at a table near the window, a familiar face from the past, in chef’s whites, walked toward my table. It was Chef Brian MacMenamin, whose talent in the kitchen I enjoyed at Heathcote Tavern, Larchmont Oyster House and Club amore4Car, to name a few of his endeavors. With Chef MacMenamin in the kitchen my expectations for a fine meal were very high. Casa Amore is not your ordinary Italian dining spot. MacMenamin indicated that, “ Our menu is 90% organic. It is easier to get organic ingredients then it was in the past, and we enjoy using them. Our menu includes many classic Italian dishes as well as a variety of grilled meats . Interesting preparations of Wild Scottish Salmon, Arctic Sea Bass and Piedmont truffles add a glorious touch to this varied menu. Chef MacMenamin is the third generation of culinary professionals in his family. He studied at The Culinary Institute Of America as well as in Switzerland for pastry arts. “ A chef must have patience. I enjoy using high quality meats, fish and vegetables. Roasting lamb and beef in the wood-burning oven, in addition to preparing pizzas, gives the dishes here a great flavor. “

With this talented chef in the kitchen, I anticipated creatively presented dishes exhibiting his flair and expertise. The charming menu at Casa Amore starts with many appetizers titled first kiss. For sharing there is a cold antipasto, a raw bar platter and a raw bar castle for four. We began our meal with tuna and avocado tartar. The presentation added to the fine ingredients in this dish. Ripe avocado tossed with cubes of pristinely fresh tuna, formed the centerpiece. Surrounding this large mound of tartar, were fresh greens and enoki mushrooms, as well as crisp triangles of fried wontons. Wasabi and white balsamic sauce was piped onto this dish along with dots of red caviar. A quail egg topped this refreshing starter.

Another fine choice was the grilled Portobello mushroom. Here, the two mushroom caps surrounded a mound of seasoned goat cheese. A variety of wild mushrooms and pesto flageolet completed this pleasant starter. Baked stuffed little neck clams were combined with bits of turkey bacon and bread crumbs. A fresh flower decorated the plate, adding a touch of the season. Eggplant parmigiana, mussels fra diavolo and Nonna’s meatballs are some classic Italian starters.

amore3Several salads, such as burratta with figs, classic Caesar, and chopped gorgonzola are among the lighter starters which can become entrees with the addition of a protein. Lentil and hot sausage soup, minestrone and brandied lobster bisque in a bowl of bread are some soup options.

Pasta dishes include many classic options such as penne ala vodka, cavatelli casa amore with broccoli rabe and sausage, fettuccine carbonara and even Sunday gravy with potato gnocchi and many meats. Quite delicious was the elegant butternut squash ravioli surrounded by roasted sea scallops and chunks of lobster in a browned sage butter. Yummy… I wouldn’t mind a dish right now.

Among the main courses are classic chicken scarpariello, parmigiana, veal marsala and Sorrentino , lamb osso bucco and lobster fra diavolo. This kitchen does beautiful things with fish. Porcini varnished salmon and seafood gratinato are just waiting to be tried. Truly divine was the pesto crusted sea bass. Here the fish was cooked to perfection with a pesto crumb delicate crust, resting atop coarsely crushed potatoes tossed with chunks of lobster in a beurre blanc sauce. It was rich and absolutely divine.

From the grill, steaks range from porterhouse, T bone, New York Strip and filet mignon. Choose a housemade sauce to accompany your steak. Rack of lamb, lobster tails and surf and turf are other choices. We savored the Berkshire Farms master reserve Wagyu double cut pork chop. WOW …so tender. It is pork’s answer to kobe beef. This generous chop was surrounded by cherry peppers, both hot and sweet, (I chose only sweet), sliced sausage, potatoes and onions. It was a hearty excellent entrée.

Sweet endings include carrot cake bread pudding, peach and marscarapone torta rustica, chianti roasted pears, house amoreshrimpmade zeppole and even chocolate chip home bakes cookies and milk. The banana cream pie presented to me with its caramelized banana slices, pie crust and freshly whipped cream was a perfect ending, although I was only able to manage a spoonful of its goodness after my enormous and delightful meal. Maybe I’ll begin my next tasting with dessert. I also must return to try the many varieties of pizza that are offered. If I return for a light bite, many interesting sandwiches burgers and earthy special await the lunchtime guest.
Enjoy a meal lovingly prepared and served at Casa Amore in Pelham.

65 First Street
914 365 1044

Tuna Tartar (serves 2)

4 ounces sushi grade tuna in small dice
1 medium shallot, minced
½ avocado, semi firm, in small dice
2 ounces agenori seaweed salad, minced
2 Tbsps. dark sesame seed oil
1 Tbsp. wasabi powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 fresh quail eggs
Wasabi drizzle sauce
Wasabi and chili pepper tobikoamore1
Enoki mushrooms

Mix the first seven ingredients together carefully. Divide mixture into two molds of 4 ounces each. Chill for a half an hour. Unmold onto two cold plates. Garnish each with a quail egg, wasabi drizzle sauce, chili pepper tobiko and enoki mushrooms . Serve very cold with plum wine or green tea martini or crisp Australian sauvignon blanc.