Meatballs are recession proof. Just ask Tao and Lavo Corporate Executive Chef Ralph Scamardella.
Scamardella recently took over the kitchen at Lavo following the departure of chef Ludo Lefebvre, who opened the bathhouse-themed restaurant last fall with a menu anchored in Mediterranean flavors like paella, Greek salad with feta mousse, sardines a la plancha and brick-oven pizzas. Pizzas still grace the menu – delicious, two-foot affairs like the decadent lobster variety made with white truffles – but little else has stayed the same. A Brooklyn-native, Scamardella has zoomed in on the map and guided the restaurant in a decidedly Italian direction.
- At the Palazzo
- Opens for dinner at 5 p.m. nightly
That direction, Scamardella explains, is the result of listening to Lavo’s guests and studying their orders. “Most of the things that worked were the recognizable Italian dishes on the menu. There was veal milanesa and some Italian-flavored dishes that seemed to be the most popular, and also the steak that was extremely popular.”
With that knowledge, Scamardella turned to sister restaurant Tao for inspiration, taking its pan-Asian mélange concept and applying it to Italo-centric Lavo.
The menu that emerged focuses on “the greatest hits of Italian-American cuisine and steaks.” Pastas include the pasta melanzana, which pairs melt-in-your-mouth eggplant with a light tomato sauce and al dente pasta, and second courses range from Chilean sea bass cooked with heirloom tomatoes to the veal milanesa topped with a refreshingly acidic salad to steaks. On the side, thick polenta fries rubbed in cornmeal make a nice alternative to the usual potato dishes, also available, although somewhat less in keeping with the Italian array.
While plenty of the dishes on Lavo’s new lineup look and taste familiar, Scamardella, who joined Tao corporate two years ago, has put his own spin on the Italian classics.
“Like a spaghetti and meatballs, which is very basic, but everyone makes their own meatball,” he explains. “I’m an Italian-American guy myself, and I just took from the way my mother used to make certain dishes that I thought would come across very well, like the tomato basil sauce – in Italian we call it pomodoro, just a light tomato sauce.”
That sauce is paired with one of Lavo’s current top-sellers, the giant one-pound Kobe beef meatball that arrives topped with sheep’s milk ricotta and goes for $20. About the size of a softball, the generous appetizer is one of a selection of oversized meatballs available on the new menu. You can learn to make the guilty pleasure that’s more pleasure than guilt in our Meal in a Minute in-kitchen video with Chef Scamardella.
While it’s only been in place a few months, Lavo’s new Italian focus is already paying dividends for the still-young Palazzo eatery.
“When we had the Mediterranean menu up in the window, when we had a 100 reservations we would maybe do 150 [total guests]. Now, if we have 100 reservations, we’ll do 400 [guests],” Scamardella says. “People will see the menu, see something they like on the menu and they’ll come in and we’ll get a good response. Our walk-in business is incredible.”
More walk-ins mean more meatballs.
“I’m amazed at the amount of food we sell,” marvels Scamardella.
Kobe Beef One-Pound Meatball
1 pound ground Kobe beef
1 pound ground sweet sausage
1 pound ground veal
2 ounces salt
1 ounce ground black pepper
2 ounces dry breadcrumbs
1 ounce fresh white bread
2 ounces milk
½ ounce chopped basil
½ ounce chopped parsley
2 ounces grated Romano cheese
2 ounces grated Parmigiano cheese
2 ounces diced onion, cooked
1 ounce chopped garlic, fresh
Combine dry breadcrumbs, fresh white bread and milk in a small bowl. Using your hands break the bread apart and mix it into the other ingredients gently until fully absorbed.
Now, simply follow the directions in our Meal in a Minute video and you’ll be able to create Lavo’s bocce ball-sized meatballs right at home.