The Battello team and I are sitting at a salvaged barnwood table near the bar—the same one I sat at back in 2015 when we first met. Next to us is the same wall of glass jars separating the dining areas; and above, the same exposed wooden beams. Like a moment frozen in time, not much has changed—save for the clutter of boats docked outside the patio, an elevated menu and a few new faces. The point is, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before Battello had to close its doors, it’s not far fetched to say that it had become something of a local landmark. With its charming, rustic interior and tall glass windows preceding a view of Lower Manhattan coupled with Chef Ryan DePersio’s forward-thinking food, the venue made as big of an impact as one could make in three short years. When the pier on which Battello sits was abruptly chained off back in the summer of 2017 due to repairs needed to ensure its longevity, it came as quite a shock to many (myself included). And with their livelihoods on the line—and countless weddings booked through that year—it was a particularly trying time for Battello’s four operators. One which Managing Partner, Cory Checket, could only describe to me as “a very humbling experience.”
Fast forward to today, the powerhouse team of Chef DePersio, Checket, Joe Calafiore (Director of Operations) and Dominique Borzomati (Director of Events) has seen things through to their recent relaunch. “There were times when we looked at each other and were like, ‘Are we even getting this place back?’ We definitely were not sure—but we stuck together,” Chef DePersio told me, vowing that the best of Battello is still yet to come.
Because the restaurant was untouched in the construction of the pier, there was little work that needed to be done to the venue itself. But the real challenge was getting the restaurant back to the well-oiled machine it once was. “We’ve retained about 20 percent of our front of house, as well as some others that used to work here,” Borzomati added. “It’s a true testament to how good it is to work for this group. We’re like one big family—cooks and servers have returned because they’re happier working there.” Despite a few familiar faces, there was still a lot of hiring to be done as Battello once operated at a high level with a staff of 96. This process of curating new talent was ultimately the group’s greatest challenge because of the high expectations they have. As a result, the new team spent two weeks training, day and night, on food service before the official reopening.
“The same people we train for our restaurant staff, we use in our banquets and that gets elevated over your typical event or wedding venue,” Calafiore explained. “If you’re here for brunch, lunch or dinner, we’re here talking to guests on the floor. If you book a wedding, Dom [Borzomati] is here for those weddings. The difference between us and most restaurant venues is that the people that operate are here every night.”
When it comes to recapturing (and building upon) the footprint Battello made before shutting down, Checket is confident in their original vision and only looks to improve on it. “I think we were great before, but our main goal is to be better than we were before. I think we provide an experience that no other restaurant in this area provides. Between Chef Ryan’s food, the service, the fact that we’re here every night as owners and operators, live music and of course, the view. Most restaurants that have a view like this sort of rest on that as the only asset they need to be successful and they don’t deliver on food and service.”
A big change for Battello—starting later this spring—is that they’ll now offer outdoor seating on the patio (a few steps closer to that awe-inspiring view). The restaurant has always had their enclosed patio which opens up and feels like you’re outside, but now there will be actual seating outdoors. In addition, while the boats outside sometimes created a nice ambience, they mostly just blocked the Manhattan skyline. With the marina gone, there’s less foot traffic and overall, a better atmosphere.
While the view of Lower Manhattan from Battello’s dining room is more appealing than ever before, as always, the real eye-grabber is Chef DePersio’s eclectic menu. “I actually decided to completely redo the original menu,” he said. “We didn’t bring back any dishes, except a few signatures like the ricotta gnocchi—but I would say 95 percent of the menu is completely redone. I only have two or three employees from the original kitchen.”
During his time away from Battello, the busy chef who also operates Kitchen Step in Jersey City and Fascino in Montclair, spent some time in his other restaurants and did some traveling. “I was working in a one-star Michelin restaurant in Italy on the Amalfi Coast for two weeks to get some ideas going. When the restaurant was closed, I would go to other restaurants and eat.”
A master of his craft when it comes to creating a well-balanced, multidisciplinary menu, Chef DePersio began working on Battello’s new dinner offerings about a month to a month and a half in advance. “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay with the structure but I wanted to liven it up. We wanted to come back even better. The very last menu I put out before we closed was one of our best. The only thing I could do is make it even better, and I think I have. Bringing in a new executive chef and chef de cuisine from NYC is helping us as well. I have to develop a menu that I like but also one that meets the standards of all the guests that come here.”
The new menu features all the great things we love about Chef DePersio’s “Italian without borders” philosophy, including six fresh pasta dishes. Two of which I was fortunate enough to sample, the Tagliatelle Verde served with lamb shank ragu, mint, sofrito and piave vecchio, as well as the Smoky Prosciutto Bucatini with crispy pork belly, scallion crema, blistered cherry tomatoes finished with parmesan and black pepper. The result is a tender wonderland of flavors that trumps even the great pasta dishes on Battello’s original menu a couple years back. And of course, anybody who knows Chef DePersio knows how much pride he takes in making fresh pasta.
Seafood appetizers remain a staple at Battello, which are headlined by the savory-meets-sweet Grilled Octopus with crispy potatoes, nduja vinaigrette, charred pineapple and tarragon, and the Big Eye Tuna Crudo with broccoli slaw, grapefruit gel, red olive powder and basil caviar. For entrées, there’s a nice mash-up of land and sea, with a brilliant Sirloin and Short Rib—which is made with breaded potatoes cooked in aged beef fat—cippolini onions and natural juices from the short rib. As always, the highlight of Battello’s seafood (for me) are the scallops. This time, it’s Pan Roasted Day Boat Scallops with Tuscan white bean stew, steamed cockles and quinoa torta—the latter of which, a sort of compacted, crispy quinoa, is a creation DePersio happened upon while at home.
“I walked into my kitchen at home, and there’s this little ball on the kitchen counter on a baking sheet. I grabbed it and took a bite, and I said, ‘What is that, it’s amazing!’ And my wife told me it was a little quinoa cake—eggs, olive oil, roasted garlic, etc. I spruced it up in my own way and we made a mold here.” Ultimately, the dish is a reminder of Chef DePersio’s passion and creative engine, which never seems to stop. Whether he’s spending time in a Michelin starred kitchen in Europe, or at home feeding his daughter, he’s constantly thinking of something truly unique to his experiences.
Chef DePersio has also added a couple of large-format dishes that can accommodate two to three people. The first of which is a 36 oz. bone-in ribeye with a bone marrow bread pudding, broccoli rabe, paprika salsa and bagna cauda butter. The other, more of “a show” as he likes to say, is a 2 ½ lb. grilled lobster served with charred parsnips, Old Bay butter and chicken fried broccoli.
Everything at Battello has pretty much hit the ground running—the staff even half-jokingly admitted that it’s been hard to keep up. As far as weddings go, Brozomati is back into the full swing of things and is booked through to 2020. “We were very fortunate that one of our former clients—someone whose wedding we essentially had to cancel when we closed—hung in there with us,” she said. “We’re super appreciative of them and they are the first official wedding we have in March, but our new bookings start in June—it’s great to be back.”