I have lived on the Upper West Side most of my life. My father had taken me to Cafe des Artistes to celebrate my graduation from Columbia College. He introduced me to the owner George Lang who then walked me next door to the Hotel des Artistes. The cafe originally opened in 1917 to feed the artist residents whose apartments did not have kitchens. Howard Chandler Christy who was a tenant in the hotel painted those magnificent murals from the end of the 1920’s until 1935 when they were completed. They are called “Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties”. There are nine oil-on-canvas murals, some mounted on wood while others were painted directly on the wall. In 2009 George closed the restaurant while he moved to Budapest and the restaurant eventually went bankrupt, owing almost ½ million dollars.
In 2011 Gianfranco Serrentino, his wife Paula Bolla-Sorrentino, and their partner, Executive chef Vito Gnazzo opened the Leopard, after completely restoring the murals. They are also the owners of Il Gattopardo (Leopard in Italian) and Mozzarella & Vino, which I have previously reviewed. George Coteanu is the ultimate major domo for both Leopard & Mozzarella. If you are lucky he will be running the operation when you dine.
The history is so much a part of the restaurant and the southern Italian cuisine was superb. It combines the culinary traditions of the regions of Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Apulia, Sardinia and Sicily. I choose the Prix fixed three-course dinner (featuring Sicilian cuisine) paired with wine. $80 for the great food and wine in such elegant surroundings was a bargain. There is a brunch on Saturdays (jazz) & Sunday and Sunday dinner is BYOB. In June 2017 it celebrated the building’s 100th anniversary.
Carpaccio of tuna with wild arugula and citrus segments
Grilled octopus with heart of escarole salad, celery, Castelvetrano olives, pickled onions, extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressing
“Fittelle” of eggplant and buffalo ricotta
Paccheri Pasta "alla Genovese" with slow cooked pork, white onions and Parmigiano Reggiano
Broiled Dover Sole with white wine and lemon, served with sautéed baby spinach
The four wines that were served with dinner-
Trebbiano D’Abruzzo 2013 “Altare” Marramiero
Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Grifi
I invited Dino Colonna, who was visiting from London to join me for dinner. Here are his comments on the meal.
“The Leopard is an Upper West Side gem with creative and delicious southern Italian cuisine set within a beautifully restored landmark building. I had the pleasure of experiencing a magnificent combination of a la carte dishes paired with some exquisite wines, all hand picked by George. George is as knowledgeable as they come, engaging and personable, certainly worthy of guiding you through your dining experience at the Leopard. The il Gattopardo paccheri pasta with “Genovese” sauce sounded like a simple dish but came with a complexity of flavors that managed to thoroughly impress, especially paired with an Elba Ansonica 2014 Cecilia wine. My other favorite was the Dover Sole, fresh, light and full of Mediterranean flavors. For dessert, I would highly recommend the cassata Siciliana, a dish traditionally served at Easter in southern Italy. It has a whipped ricotta cheese filling, wonderfully complimented by a nutty pistachio crust and dark chocolate sauce. “
I will be returning soon to try the a la carte menu. www.theleopaardnyc.com