With all the attention focused on the fate of Tavern on the Green, another Parks Department property has escaped commensurate scrutiny: The Bayside mansion formerly known as Caffé on the Green, onetime residence of Rudolph Valentino and summer retreat of Fiorello La Guardia, abutting the Clearview Golf Course and overlooking Little Neck Bay. Almost two years ago, then-operator Joseph Franco was forced out of his concession contract in the aftermath of a city audit. (There was also a Department of Investigations probe into alleged Gambino-family ties and what appeared to be a suspicious shooting in 2002.) But that’s all water under the Throgs Neck Bridge. Tomorrow, after extensive restorations, the restaurant and catering hall reopens as Valentino’s on the Green, a tribute to the property’s most famous tenant.
The new ownership includes Giorgio Kolaj, whose Albanian-immigrant family founded Famous Famiglia, the international pizza chain (and the “official pizza of the New York Yankees”). Kolaj recruited chef Don Pintabona, late of Dani and Tribeca Grill, as managing partner, and Pintabona’s plans far exceed the norm for outer-borough banquet halls. He admits to having known nothing about the silent-film star before this project. Now, he says, “I’ve really become obsessed with him.” Pintabona has amassed a sizable collection of Valentino memorabilia, from postcards and letters to a white-linen vest. He’s also intimately familiar with the actor’s life story — including that the Latin lover was trained not in performing arts but in agriculture, and that some accounts suggest he viewed show business as a way to raise money to buy a farm out west.
It’s quite apropos, then, that Pintabona is deep at work on a plan to build a solar-and-biodiesel-powered vertical farm on the property, where he hopes to grow about 80 percent of his raw materials, from mushrooms and potatoes to farmed fish. He also envisions a teaching lab for local schools. For now, the chef wants to lure locals with dishes like “pasta al forno zio Vincenzo,” named for his Sicilian uncle Vincent, and “aragoste Zela Rambova,” Pintabona’s version of angry lobster. Some Valentino trivia: Natacha Rambova was his second wife, and Zela was her pet lion cub. Check out the menu below, and preview the space in our slideshow.
Valentino’s on the Green, 201–10 Cross Island Pkwy., Bayside; 718-352-2300