In a short while, San Domenico patriarch Tony May is relaunching his celebrated restaurant downtown at 19 East 26th Street, across from Madison Square Park. May spoke to Grub Street in advance of his announcement about leaving Central Park and about his new menu.
Why are you moving downtown?
Everyone thinks 240 Central Park South is a great location. It isn’t. People don’t come unless you work hard to bring people there. We only did $4 million a year in business. It was not possible to pay the landlord what he wanted. This new area is up and coming; it’s got Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, and A Voce, and Charlie Trotter is coming in. It will be the destination area for restaurants in New York City.
Is the space bigger than the current San Domenico?
It has to be! To pay the rents the landlords are demanding in New York now, you need to do volume. We expect to see the check average at San Domenico go down by about 20 percent. But we’re going from a 150-seat dining room to a 350-seat dining room, a private dining room that seats 100, and a lounge that seats 75. So we’re going to be doing a lot more business. We expect to open in April of next year.
Are you keeping the classical, traditional Italian menu?
Absolutely! But we’re going to have a much less structured menu, so you can order just what you want, in whatever order, with as little as a few ounces of wine. You can pick octopus, and then next have shrimps with cannellini beans, or carpaccio with goose liver, or mussels, or a just a dish of pasta if you want. And there’s another part to it, too.
The food will be product driven. If I serve you a dish that has oregano, I can sell you a jar of oregano from Pantelleria, near Sicily. The same with risotto, or anything that’s on our menu. We’ll have a little boutique in the restaurant where we sell the menu products. And there will be other things we’ve never done. Maybe an 11 p.m. grappa-and-chocolate tasting at the bar? Things like that. There’s nothing new in Italy, but there’s still a lot of room for innovation in America!