Showcasing the Exquisite, Fresh, Flavorful Food at New York City’s Legendary SD26

SD26 Co-owners with Fred Bollaci

LEFT TO RIGHT: SD26 venerable restaurateur father-daughter duo, restaurant co-owners, Tony May and his daughter, Marisa May, featured here with international gourmet lifestyle expert, Fred Bollaci, CEO and President of Fred Bollaci Enterprises.

To coincide with the launch of my new company Fred Bollaci Enterprises, THE definitive authoritative international healthy, gourmet lifestyle brand, and my website, fredbollacienterprises.com, I traveled to New York, where I grew up, where my parents first introduced me to the gourmet lifestyle. I will be showcasing many of the nation’s top restaurants (with recipes and nutritional information) in my upcoming memoir, “Your Life. Your Way. Gourmet!” anticipated to be on shelves in early 2015. Among the top critically-acclaimed restaurants I am featuring is one of the finest authentic Italian restaurants in the United States, SD26 in Manhattan.

This week, I visited SD26 and had the pleasure of working with Executive Chef, Matteo Bergamini, from Lago di Garda (Veneto), Italy, near Verona to prepare a healthy, balanced, delicious meal, utilizing the freshest, highest quality ingredients sourced from local markets, growers, and producers, as well as the finest imported products from Italy. I enjoyed spending the day at SD26 this week, working with the chef, and enjoying the hospitality of Tony May and Marisa May, the venerable, dynamic father-daughter duo that own and operate this absolutely flawless establishment.

We were fortunate to be able to film the entire day I spent at SD26, including the meal I prepared with Chef Matteo, a very talented, extremely well-credentialed, passionate young man who arrived promptly at 9 a.m. on his bicycle, after visiting the green market and picking up some fresh seasonal ramps and purple budding chives to use in the soup we were about to prepare. It doesn’t get any more authentically Italian than to have a chef who was born, raised, and trained in Italy, who shops the local markets to augment his cuisine by featuring what is fresh, local, and seasonal, as they do in Italy. My philosophy for everything in life is “You deserve the best!” This translates to the best quality produce, the freshest ingredients, fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, the best products from local sources or imported from around the world. You are what you eat ~ literally! You have one life, one body, give yourself the best.

In addition to filming with Chef Matteo, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch and an incredible, guided tour of the entire restaurant with the lovely, charming Co-Owner Marisa May. Marisa, who grew up in the restaurant helping her dad, and enjoying “La Dolce Vita” in Italy in the summers as I have, is featured in the video section on the website home page, sharing her passion and extensive knowledge about Italian hospitality, her and her father’s illustrious careers as two of the top restaurateurs in New York, and showcasing SD26’s commitment to preparing the highest quality fare available. SD26 also offers something for today’s more health conscious diner, by featuring gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options, as well as their healthy, nutritionally-certified and balanced prix fixe four plate lunches, an “Italian bento box,” if you will weekdays, called “Il Quadrifoglio,” which are meals designed to provide complete nutrition, and to provide energy for working people to be able to return to the office feeling nourished and satisfied, not sluggish. Most Americans do not have the luxury of taking a two hour “Siesta” or hiatus after lunch to rest, recharge, and digest, as many Italians do, so this concept perfect for busy, on the go New Yorkers who want to enjoy the best, and need to get back to the office or on with their day.

SD26’s cuisine, as Marisa and Chef Matteo explain is based upon centuries old authentic Italian traditions and recipes, which have evolved into modern, gourmet authentic contemporary Italian fare. Practically everything is made from scratch at SD26, even the authentic “Roman-style” Rosetta rolls they bake every morning. Dining at SD26, as I have for years, is proof that one can enjoy healthy, delicious food and maintain a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing flavor or visual appeal. My philosophy is life, including losing weight, and maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle should be fun, not torture. Dining at SD26 is not only fun, it is fantastic, and healthy and balanced, and with their special lunch options, the best cuisine is surprisingly affordable!

Marisa’s dad, Co-Owner Tony May, a venerable name in the authentic Italian food community can be considered the “Ambassador” of premium, authentic, sophisticated, yet surprisingly simple, gourmet Italian fare in America, much the way the beloved, late Marcella Hazan can be considered the “Godmother” of authentic Italian cucina in America. Tony May’s legendary career began over 40 years ago as the first operator and subsequently owner of The Rainbow Room (1968-1986), before going on to open Il Palio, later San Domenico on 59th Street (Central Park South), which moved in 2009 to become the gorgeous new SD26 on East 26th Street at Madison Square Park. The restaurant was designed by famed international designer Massimo Vignelli, who sadly passed away this week and features lots of glass, soaring ceilings, and three levels, including a gorgeous bar that says “Milan chic,” to the open kitchen (diners may reserve one of two chef’s tables in the kitchen and enjoy a special meal prepared by Chef Matteo), to the amazing upper level banquet rooms and balcony overlooking the main dining room, the cozy wine cellar, perfect for intimate celebrations, featuring an outstanding collection of the finest wines from Italy (such as verticals of Sassicaia). The wine bar offers a tapas-like menu, and features an impressive wine list by the glass, dispensed from a cuvinet system. The gorgeous Peter Max room, where I had the pleasure of dining with Marisa, features an original Peter Max painting of Lady Liberty, the perfect marriage of Contemporary American and authentic Italian. As a sommelier myself, I enjoyed meeting and speaking with the lovely Eleanora, SD26’s sommelier, raised in Verona, Italy, whose extensive knowledge, especially of Italian wines and lovely personality were truly the icing on the cake for an outstanding dining experience. Eleanora helped select three Italian wines to pair with our meal. Part of my philosophy, as an oenophile, is to complement the foods we are enjoying with wine, it simply elevates the experience. During the year it took me to lose 150 pounds, I continued to enjoy wine with dinner on most days, something no other diet or weight loss program I ever tried had permitted.

Tony May has received numerous awards for his achievements in promoting and elevating the perception of authentic Italian Cuisine in America throughout his career, and has authored “Italian Cuisine: Basic Cooking Techniques,” which is available, and distributed to culinary schools. In 1996, San Domenico was one of only 24 restaurants in the world to receive the prestigious “Insegna del Ristorante Italiano” from the President of the Republic of Italy, an award denoting the finest Italian ristoranti outside of Italy. Since opening, SD26 has received numerous awards and accolades, including being named one of Esquire Magazine’s “Best New Restaurants” and receiving four stars on Forbes’ 2013 “All Star Eateries” list, and being named one of Zagat’s “Top 50 Restaurants” in 2014.

The “alta cucina” or high cuisine of SD26 is a far cry from the typical “red checkered tablecloth” Italian-American restaurants with casks of Chianti, which were prevalent several decades ago. Tony May was a pioneer who introduced New York and most Americans to delicacies like Tartufi Bianchi, or the famed white truffles from Alba in Northern Italy, whose light, heavenly, earthy flavor and slightly perfumed aroma perfectly complement simple, elegant dishes, such as fresh egg pasta with a touch of butter and parmigiano, or their famed “Uovo in Raviolo,” a dish from the Piemonte region of Italy, brought to America at SD26 and showcased in my upcoming video segment on this website. The dish consists of a large raviolo (singular in Italian for ‘ravioli’) made with imported “00” (doppio zero) flour from Italy, and egg yolks to achieve a vibrant yellow color and incredibly rich flavor. The ravioli are filled with swirls of herb-infused sheep’s milk ricotta to create “baskets” which will each hold an egg yolk. Another sheet of pasta is then draped over the bottom sheet containing the ricotta and yolks they are cut into rounds and sealed closed, cooked for 2 minutes in boiling water (until they float), then finished with a touch of truffle butter and freshly grated parmigiano. The truffle butter is something straight from heaven– Chef Matteo incorporates both the prized white truffles and black truffles and blends them with freshly whipped butter in the autumn during white truffle season, and SD26 is able to use the truffle butter all year. Surprisingly, you don’t need a lot to achieve tremendous flavor.

I had this dish last November 2013 the day before I ran the New York City Marathon. I was fortunate to enjoy an enhanced presentation of the “Uovo in Raviolo” with shaved white truffle on top. This dish helped give me the carbs I needed to complete the race the following day!

Other items we prepared that are lighter and healthier are SD26’s “La Vignarola” soup, a simple, delicious spring vegetable soup that takes just minutes to make, that is finished with shaved pecorino Romano and a drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil from Italy. The recipe for “La Vignarola” will be featured in my upcoming book! For a healthy, satisfying salad, we prepared a lovely poached shrimp salad with greens, farro, shaved artichokes, and a zesty lemon and olive oil dressing that evokes memories of the Amalfi Coast. Excellent food can be transformative and even life-changing. Some of my fondest memories are of excellent meals and dishes I have enjoyed over the years throughout the world. We also feature a stuffed rabbit breast and a rhubarb crostata for dessert, both simple, yet delicious dishes. The key to enjoying a restaurant like SD26 is the foods are the freshest, best products available, the portions are balanced, ample, as in Italy, not gigantic or overwhelming, as many restaurants in America are known for. You won’t find anything like a giant platter of fried chicken cutlets smothered with too much mozzarella cheese and a heavy tomato sauce. You will find things like a 4 ounce serving of freshly made spaghetti alla chitarra (freshly made and sliced on a “chitarra” or guitar like device from Italy with sharp strings to cut the pasta), then tossed with a light, fresh, zesty sauce of San Marzano tomatoes from the rich volcanic soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius near Napoli, home to the most delicious tomatoes in the world. SD26’s cuisine is fresh, elegant, balanced, simply the best!

Out of the hundreds of excellent restaurants, both four and five star, and less fancy, neighborhood “mom and pop” establishments I have enjoyed worldwide, you might ask why I chose SD26 as the first restaurant I am showcasing. It is simple. For starters, Tony May’s and Marisa May’s commitment to the best food, wine, service, ambiance, and overall experience are exemplary. SD26 is legendary and worth the trip to New York to experience. More than that, SD26 and the May family hold a special place in my heart and tummy! I will never forget the day in November 1988, soon after Tony May opened San Domenico that my late father, Dr. Frederick Bollaci, a consummate gourmand (also a physician–who spent 7 years living in Italy studying medicine at the University of Bologna) told me, “Son, I am taking you to lunch somewhere very special today, it will probably be the best meal you’ve ever had,” and he was right. My first visit to San Domenico was an experience I will never forget. My dad introduced me to Tony May and his exquisite cuisine. We enjoyed freshly made pappardelle alls lepre (with rabbit ragout) topped with shavings of white truffle, and a stuffed rabbit dish that was exquisite. My dad was someone who truly enjoyed fine dining, especially Italian cuisine, and despite having taken me to many amazing places and having savored many amazing meals, I had never experienced anything like this! Over 25 years later, having enjoyed countless wonderful meals at fabulous restaurants all over the world, this stands out as one of my ten most favorite meals, dishes, and experiences of all time, and this is a perfect, fitting tribute to him and completely exemplifies the international healthy, gourmet lifestyle brand that is Fred Bollaci.

About Fred Bollaci

I'm CEO and President of Fred Bollaci Enterprises. I lost more than 100 pounds while living "La Dolce Vita" and I'm now known as "The Healthy Gourmet." Sample the good life with me through fitness, fine food, and good wine. Meet chefs who cater to a healthy gourmet lifestyle through my Golden Palate blog.
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