CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Perfectly ripe figs; resh produce; a rustically set table; berries galore; Palma and Sante D’Orazio circa 1961
Everything about Palma, the charmed restaurant tucked away on Cornelia Street next to an old carriage house, says home—from the ivy covered courtyard to the Italian farmhouse menu and open country kitchen serving dishes like ricotta crème brulee with fi g compote. “We originally lived in that tiny 1810 carriage house,” says Palma founder and namesake Palma D’Orazio. “My daughter was born there. I did dinners at my house. One became two, then three.”
The restaurant hosted a party last winter for D’Orazio’s cousin (the D’Orazios hail from a large Brooklyn-based Italian clan), famed photographer Sante D’Orazio, and his new book, Barely Private.“Like my mother,” says Sante, “Palma is someone who would feed the whole neighborhood.”
Sante launched his cousin’s catering career accidentally when he asked her to cook for photo shoots. “Just cook like it’s Sunday,” he told her. Over the decades at Milk Studios, where she does in-house catering and runs a juice bar, Palma has fed everyone from Lady Gaga to Madonna.
The night of Sante’s fête, Palma’s dreamy bar—made of limestone from a temple in Jerusalem—served a red wine from southern Italy. Matt Dillon devoured plump malfatti in the restaurant’s underground cave, which is decorated with French tiles. Chestnut beams inside the eatery hail from tobacco barns in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.
Then there’s the food: Palma stresses the importance of biodynamic farming, “food that is grown without chemicals,” she explains. “We have a farm upstate in Pomona called Camp Hill. My friend Alexandra Spadea created it for us. And when they can’t supply us, we go to the farmers’ market.”
Not only do the restaurant’s organic meats taste good, they tend to be a healthy choice. “When I first opened, nobody would eat meat,” says Palma. “[Now] everybody [wants] high protein.”
Palma also favors a healthy take on pasta. “After years of using bleached flour, people develop allergies,” she says. “Even in Italy now, so much pasta is wheat-free. We still use double-zero durum wheat, but we’re also doing a handmade gluten- and wheatfree pasta. Millet-rice pasta is also delicious. ”
Such innovations have been lifesavers for Palma’s 16-year-old daughter, Chloerose, who was diagnosed with severe asthma. Palma and her husband, Pierre Bree (originally Palma’s French teacher), started Chloerose on a wheat-free, dairyfree diet on the instructions of the girl’s doctor. She no longer requires medicine—perhaps testament to a clean approach to delicious food. “I see a different person,” says Palma.