The idea behind Enoteca Maria is brilliant —and dauntingly difficult to pull off: A rotating lineup of five cooks from around Italy is turned loose to prepare daily-changing, market-driven menus of dishes from their home regions.
Yet it seems to be working. First posts from this four-month-old wine bar and restaurant, a short walk from Staten Island’s ferry terminal, describe delightful and surprising food, made with care. Miss Poste, who went when a cook from Palermo, Sicily, was in the house, loved her bucatini con sarde (with raisins, pine nuts, and briny sardines). Also delicious: clams in spicy red sauce, and cheesy, aromatic veal spiedini (skewers). Other recent Palermo menus included lasagna with chopped meat, peas, mozzarella, and tomato sauce; pasticcio (baked pasta) with sausage, shrimp, cabbage, eggplant, mozzarella, pine nuts, and raisins; and, for dessert, cakes with house-made ricotta.
The other cooks hail from Torretta (also in Sicily), Rome, Marche, and Salerno (in Campania)—no reports yet on their specialties. The lunch and dinner menus are on the restaurant’s Web site, which is updated daily. Since this is an enoteca, the wine list is deep and all-Italian. Sit at the bar and chat up the owners, Denise and Jody Scaravella, who are likely to comp you a glass.
Phantastic, who has enjoyed two extraordinary meals in two visits, applauds the Scaravellas for their novel concept: “They didn’t want cooks, or worse yet, chefs. They wanted your little old Italian grandmother who loves to cook, has great ideas, and is used to cooking for a crowd. This concept risks a certain spottiness, as inevitably one cook will outshine another, or one night there might be little fresh food to work from. But so far I haven’t suffered from this.”