Dominic Chianese, who played Tony’s Uncle Junior on the Sopranos and sings Italian standards tonight at Columbus 72, was born and raised in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx. His grandfather owned an Italian-French restaurant on Houston Street, and his mother, who worked there, is related to the owner of Mario’s, where Chianese says you can find the best pizza on Arthur Avenue. One of his cousins works at Borgatti’s and makes what Chianese considers the best ravioli in the country. Of course, being a Soprano means getting the VIP treatment even if a relative doesn’t own the restaurant. “As an Italian-American,” he says, “I enjoy it. My wife says [in a proper English accent] ‘You can’t do that, Dominic.’ It’s a cultural thing: She’s from England. I’m from the Bronx.” We asked him where he got treated like a king this week.
Saturday, March 15
I went to the Mansion Diner on the corner of 86th and York for breakfast. There are very few regular diners around these days. It’s a good one. I always have eggs over with sausage. I’m trying to be on a diet. I’m a bread eater, and I love bread and pasta. I used to be skinny, but now I’m getting a pot belly and it’s not good for a singer to have a pot belly. I don’t mind it as an actor, but as a singer… It’s hard to stop the bread, especially in the Italian restaurants.
That night we went to Luca. The veal Milanese. is really excellent. My real favorite is Ottimo. Salvatore Esposito is an incredible cook. [To gauge an Italian restaurant’s authenticity] I’ll always order the chicken, and if that’s not done well, I know I’d never eat there again. I always order marinara sauce — I like the Neapolitan style. I don’t like heavy sauces, and I don’t put a lot of sauce in my food. I can tell by the look and by the aroma when it’s great stuff.
Sunday, March 16
We went to brunch at York Grill. It landed on our block on 89th and York in ’95. A lot of other restaurants failed so we started going there. It’s become a favorite. They have a great cheese dessert inside of a parfait glass with raspberry sauce. My favorite dish is the pork chops, and they make a good pasta. Brunch is four courses with a mimosa, Champagne, or Bloody Mary. I usually just have orange juice. I had a ham and Cheddar-cheese omelette. I like omelettes at that time on Sunday.
I eat at Elaine’s once in a while, believe it or not. People think it’s just a hangout, but the food is very delicious. I have the rigatoni with marinara sauce — they put sweet sauce on it for me. The cook is a great guy.
Monday, March 17
We went to Quattro Gatti It’s a Neopotlian place. They make a great marina sauce. I always like the branzino — it’s delicious. This time I had the minestrone.
Tuesday, March 18
I had a rehearsal at home, so I didn’t go out to eat. I sing with Franco, the owner of La Bella Ferrara. It’s a little place on Grand Street — it’s been there about 30 years. It has a pastry shop, and next door it has a coffee shop. Franco sings these wonderful songs. He sings to these wonderful old Italian records you don’t hear anymore.
I stayed home and ordered pizza. I’m not much of a cook, although my grandfather (my mother’s father from Italy) was a chef. My mother worked with him. Her chicken and roast potatoes and pasta were excellent. She made wonderful soups during the Depression days when I was born. She made a good a steak pizzaiola. She couldn’t ruin a steak if you paid her a million dollars.