Another Night to Remember at Manducatis

For many years, Manducatis in Long Island City (Queens) has been one of my favorite food and wine destinations in New York City. It remains, for me, an entirely unique, always surprising, and thoroughly rewarding culinary experience. I know some would disagree with me: many friends claim the list has been “too picked over” while others say the food is uneven (and some are afraid to cross the East River into Queens when it’s actually just two stops on the 7 train from Grand Central!).

But let me let you in on a secret: whenever I dine at Manducatis, I never order from menu; I always let wine director Anthony Cerbone create a menu for me and I simply tell him what I’d like to drink and how much I’d like to spend. He’s never disappointed…

Last week, I made a trip to visit Anthony and his father Vincent with a group of wine professionals.

Above: Anthony’s mother’s scialatelli were made with little bits of fresh basil in the noodles themselves. Dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, cannellini beans, and a basil leaf, it was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had there. Besides the classic antipasti, the highlight for me was roast suckling pig served with braised cabbage (a traditional Neapolitan contorno or side for meat) and sautéed broccoli rabe.

It’s true that most of the older wines have been drunk: when I first started going to Manducatis in 2000, you would invariably see wine directors from across the city there on any given night, opening bottle after bottle (I actually wrote a vignette about an encounter between Anthony, left, and one of NYC’s most unsavory restaurateurs in my contribution to Perché New York?, “Il punto di vista di un gastronomo,” Piacenza, Scritture, 2007, and you’ll have to read the salacious account in Italian). But Anthony (left) continues to develop the wine program there and you might be surprised by what you find. There seem to be a lot of Tuscan wines from the 1990s, for example. The last time I was there, I had a wonderful 1997 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino, for example, at a very reasonable price.

Anthony’s wine knowledge never fails to impress me and for my money, a meal at Manducatis just can’t be beat: classic Neapolitan antipasti, homemade pasta, classically prepared Italian secondi, and a warm, spacious dining room with an old-world feel, where I’ve never felt rushed.

Needless to say, we stayed to close the place, chatting with Anthony and his father Vincent.

I was surprised to learn that before coming the U.S. (where he joined the army, I believe in the 1960s), Vincent had served in the Italian Carabinieri (Italy’s national police force). A native of Naples, he learned about the wines of Piedmont and the Veneto, he told us, because he had been stationed in many different parts of the country. This experience — unusual for a twenty-something Neapolitan in post-war Italy — changed the way he thought about Italian wine. After leaving the U.S. Army, he decided to go into the restaurant business and became friends with the legendary Lou Iacucci, who was among the first to import the great wines of Piedmont to the U.S. The rest is history…

Above: even the most vehement detractors of new-world-style Nebbiolo appreciate the glory of old Gaja. The 1978 drank beautifully. I am convinced — more than ever — that he added some Barbera to his wines back then. As was the tradition before the Barolo and Barbaresco DOCs were created, producers regularly added small amounts of Barbera to their Nebbiolo. The acidity of the Barbera helped to balance the intense tannin of the Nebbiolo and thus made the wine approachable at an earlier age. But it also helped the wine to age more gracefully: Barbera can age upward of thirty years (when vinified in a traditional style) and I believe this wine’s vibrant acidity was owed to the presence of the humbler grape.

Manducatis
1327 Jackson Ave (at 21st St)
Long Island City (Queens), NY 11101
(718) 729-4602

*****

No one really remembers why the restaurant is called “Manducatis.” I believe that the name is an allusion to Psalm 126 (or 127 depending on the critical apparatus). In this “gradual canticle” (or “song of degrees” or “song of ascents”) attributed to King Solomon, the singer reminds the listener that all toil is useless unless “the Lord builds the house.” In other words, unless you believe in God, you will live your life in vain.

The line in the Latin Vulgate:

qui manducatis panem idolorum [alternatively doloris]

A literal translation:

you who eat (are eating) the bread of pain [toil, grief, sorrow]

2 Responses to Another Night to Remember at Manducatis

  1. Terry Hughes says:

    I thought the name was really Manducati’s. They just omitted the apostrophe. I like your explanation far better.

    As to the Barbera added to the Gaja Barolo, no doubt. I bet even Ziliani liked Angelo’s wines back then.

    Nice post, amico.

  2. Lou Iacucci…what a character he was…

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