Evolving the Menu

Caffe Abbracci Has a New Chef

By J.P. Faber

October 2019

For the devoted fans of Caffe Abbracci, consistency is paramount. When you like a certain dish, it’s good to know it will still be there the next time you visit. That philosophy has worked well for owner Nino Pernetti for some 30 years.

Now, however, “It’s time to evolve,” says Pernetti. Thanks to cable TV and the internet, “diners today have enormous knowledge about food,” he says. “They want to see sophistication at its best, they want to see creativity at its best. Long gone is the breast of chicken in marinara sauce.”

Chef Antonio Alfano (shown above), who joined Abbracci in the spring, is the first new chef Abbracci has had in three decades – and the perfect man to reinvigorate the restaurant’s palate, says Pernetti. The secret lies in the daily specials. While the main menu of tried- and-true favorites rarely changes, Chef Antonio is free to create dramatic new special dishes each day. Pernetti says that more than two-thirds of his regular customers order the specials, and for good reason. “In the morning I dedicate about an hour and a half to talking to the suppliers,” says Chef Antonio, who was trained as a cook in Tuscany. “We have four or five fish suppliers, we have different suppliers for vegetables, and so on. So, first I look at what the ingredients are – because if you have good quality ingredients you are most of the way there – then I concoct the idea. All the specials are made like this – what the market has available, and then the gastronomical creativity.”

The result are daily specials like a recent Dover sole stuffed with smoked salmon and mascarpone on a bed of oven roasted baby eggplant, drizzled with orange shallot mustard sauce and topped with pearl cranberries. “When I walked in, in the morning, it didn’t exist,” says Chef Antonio.