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Mara Gibbs

Mara Gibbs

Posted: November 11, 2009 10:30 AM

Everybody Eats Where? Harry Cipriani

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One of the first restaurateurs that I met in NYC when I moved here from Los Angeles was Giuseppe Cipriani, and his father Arrigo. I went to Harry Cipriani, the New York outpost of their legendary Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy, for a lunch with some friends from Los Angeles who also had well known restaurants of their own, and who knew the Cipriani family.

Giuseppe was only 23 at the time but had an elegance unparalleled by anybody I had ever met in the restaurant world, especially for someone of that young age. He was gracious and incredibly charming making it very hard not to fall for him as so many of the ladies who lunched there also did. I guess he is a chip off the old block because Arrigo has this same irresistible quality about him.

When Giuseppe or Arrigo were not in town it was up to the dynamic duo, the incredibly well dressed and much loved Hassan El Garrahy, the General Manager and the wonderful Sergio Vacca the maitre d'hotel and also a manager to run the restaurant. They both have photographic memories for faces and remember the names of everybody who has ever walked through the doors whether you are a titan of Industry like Ronald Perlman who holds court at the first table by the front door, or Teddy Forstmann of Forstmann and Little, Top Chef Hostess, Padma Ladkshi, fashion designers Ralph Lauren, Valentino or Domenico Vacca (who dresses many of the Cipriani staffers), rock n' rollers Eric Clapton, Elton John, Mick Jagger, actors Jack Nicholson, Jeremy Piven and Nicole Kidman as well as politicians, visiting foreign dignitaries, royalty and just plain folk like you and me.

I have been dining at Harry Cipriani for as many years as I have lived in NY, 24 years to be exact. I dined at the restaurant before a taxi went head first into the dining room and after the beautiful renovation that David Tang supervised. In fact as a tradition that I began long ago, I celebrate my birthday every year at one of the many Cipriani restaurants, although I am still partial to the first Cipriani in the states here on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street. As my
brother, a fellow restaurateur, always said, it is all about location, location and location, and that is one of the best locations anywhere in the world.

Four years ago I celebrated what was a kind of milestone birthday with a party at the Rainbow Room that the Cipriani's unfortunately no longer own, then I traveled to Venice where I was doing research for a book I was co-writing. I blew out candles in the Cipriani's flagship, Harry's Bar, and finally wound up in London for one more birthday party at their Davies Street location up the street from Claridges Hotel.

Last year, Harry Cipriani and the rest of the Cipriani restaurants here in the U.S.A. suffered some changes that affected the restaurants as only these things can do, one was the loss of the presence of Giuseppe and Arrigo in this country due to a legal situation that I would rather not discuss in this blog. If you are curious, pick up the December issue of Vanity Fair and read the article called "The Trouble with Harry's" written by Mark Seal. I think you will find this article to be informative and objective. If you want more history about the Cipriani's family history, you can read about them in my book Everybody Eats There in which my co-author William Stadiem and I devoted a whole chapter to Harry's Bar in Venice.

Another problem that temporarily affected the restaurant was the letting go of long time General Manager Hassan which saddened many of the loyal customers including me. I came of age with Hassan because he worked for the Cipriani's here in NY from their beginning in the 80's. I don't know the details of his departure, but he is truly missed. You can now see him at Orsay where he is now the co-owner of this Upper East Side brasserie on Lexington Ave and 75th St.

For awhile after these changes, I felt the food and service had suffered, so I decided to take a breather, but this last September I finally returned to Cippy's as one of my good friends fondly named it, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the magic was back and my favorite dishes such as the artichoke salad with avocado, the fried calamari, tuna scottato ( charred grilled rare tuna on marinated fennel), green tagliolini with basil pesto, ravioli with spinach and ricotta in a butter and sage sauce, and luscious, creamy risotto with mushrooms or the classic primavera were better than ever. The chocolate and vanilla meringue cakes, pecan and apple pies, and homemade vanilla, coffee and deep dark chocolate ice cream remain dangerously delicious.

While sipping a refreshing peach bellini (pureed peach juice and prosecco or if desired, champagne) you can view one of the best people-watching shows in town. There might be a short wait for one of the small but cozy tables, yet bartenders Luca and Salvatore will make sure that your thirst is quenched if you munch on too many of the addicting zucchini chips that are back on the bar like they were the very first time I dined at Cipriani's. Once you are seated, Giuseppe's young, handsome and polite sons, Ignazio and Maggio, and managers Sergio (who has taken the reins) and Daoud will tend to your every need to make sure that your dining experience is one that will be truly memorable. Be patient, you are in Venice, and there can be a little "casino" or craziness as the Italians often say. You will nonetheless, feel like you have been on a vacation from the stress and problems of our complicated world. Though some say that Cipriani's is over-priced and they may be right, I truly believe sometimes it is worth it. Hey, it is cheaper than a trip to Italy.

Harry Cipriani
781 Fifth Ave
Tel: 212 753-5566

I have an addendum to my blog today: CHECK THE CHECK!

Please be sure that you carefully check your bill before paying. Last night I dined in one of my favorite restaurants and we were charged for another tables' drinks and also didn't realize that a 20% tip had already been added to the check when we added yet another 20% service tip.

It is very easy for a restaurant to make an innocent mistake, so a customer needs to do their due diligence.

After making the restaurant aware of their errors today, they made the necessary adjustments as any good restaurant should do.