The Italian Job
May 19, 2010 | by photographs by Lyndsay McGregor | Homepage
Silvano Marchetto (center) with his staff
It’s one thing to be the restaurant of the moment in this town. It’s quite another to be the restaurant of the moment in this town for 35 years. Da Silvano—the West Village institution as famous for its spirited owner and namesake, Silvano Marchetto, and devoted celebrity following as for its Italian fare—found a way. With a combination of delicious food (Marchetto, a full-fledged chef, still oversees the kitchen) and unparalleled charm, the restaurant became a staple of the famous and nonfamous alike early on. Celebrity sightings happen there nearly every day.
In celebration of his eatery’s 35th anniversary, Marchetto opened Da Silvano’s doors on May 2—a day after the official anniversary date—to celebrate with his family (his daughter, Leyla, operates the restaurant Scuderia across the street from Da Silvano), staff and loyal fans. Shortly before the party, he sat down with us to talk Italian food, coming to America and why he loves his restaurant so much.
GOTHAM: Was it always your dream to open a restaurant?
SILVANO MARCHETTO: Absolutely. I came here in 1968. I was working at the Derby Steakhouse. I was working as a waiter, I didn’t want to confuse my cooking idea from [what I learned in Europe]. Every time I went out to restaurants, I saw that people were full but they were serving I don’t know what kind of food—it was not Italian to me. I thought, if they can make it, I can make it too. And that’s it.
What is it about this business that you like so much?
I like people all the time. We get a lot of famous actors and actresses and it’s a joy for me to cook. I like to eat well and I like to offer people whatever I know of my experience.
What are some of your favorite dishes?
We change the specials every day, three or four of the list I change. Right now, my favorite is pasta made with sea urchin and quail eggs. And the gnocchi with lobster. It’s a half a lobster inside the gnocchi, homemade with the right proportion—which I will not tell you. Even though I told everyone else: seven to three.
[Laughs] Thank you! Why do you think this place has become what it is and has such a following?
I think that I am nice with everybody and I’m here all the time. It’s not the same atmosphere when I’m not here. You know who my favorite customer is? Peter Fine.
He used to be a busboy in our place and now he has done very well. He comes here all the time. I remember that my father, who passed away, would yell at him.
Who else comes by?
Jack Nicholson. Anna Wintour. She’s always in a rush. In and out… check, please! The food has just arrived. She makes her husband eat the same way. Patti Smith! She came with Johnny Depp. Mickey Rourke. U2 came three times. Sean Penn. Nicky Hilton.
Do you have plans to expand?
I have a restaurant in Bodrum, Turkey, called Da Silvano, and a second franchise in Istanbul is the next project. I was approached by somebody in Turkey about opening a restaurant there, and I said yes, why not! It’s in a spa called Palmalife Bodrum Resort & Spa [http://www.palmaliferesort.com/restaurant.html].
We’ll have to give some buzz to Turkey. And when you’re not at the restaurant, what do you like to do?
Sleep. It’s true. [Laughs] I have to recharge.
I love motorcycles and cars. I do race on and off privately in small tracks, not professionally. My favorite motorcycle is BMW. I bought 17 motorcycles since I have been in the United States. I had three of them, I got rid of two, and kept only one. But I like Ferraris. The best one I have is the 2009 599. White. I also have a red one. I have only three.
That’s not a bad number. And 35 years—has it gone quickly?
I feel like I am coming in for the first day. Every day is the same.
260 Avenue of the Americas, 212-982-2343; Palmalife Bodrum Resort & Spa, Bodrum, Turkey, +90-252-396-60-50
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.