New Chef Reinventing
Porto Vivos Menu
By The Foodies./ firstname.lastname@example.org
In the two-plus years after their a flashy opening, Porto
Vivo is settling in and going back to basics. Good food, simple
yet diverse menu offerings and an always-comfortable atmosphere
are establishing the restaurant as a reliable family favorite.
Porto Vivo burst on the Huntington restaurant scene in 2009
following an extensive renovation of a one-time antiques warehouse
on Gerard Street. The showpiece restaurant, featuring multilevel
dining rooms with a bustling lounge at its heart, is the brainchild
of Home Shopping Network guru Joy Mangano and another chapter
in the story of how a single mom converted a good idea to
wild business success.
Mangano is known as the mother of invention, a
play on words that marries her business roots shes
an inventor whos turned good ideas into top-selling
merchandise and one of the few things in her life that
might be more important to her motherhood. Mangano
is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Huggable Hanger,
a sturdy, flat hanger covered in a fabric-gripping velvety
material that have changed millions of closets forever. Hundreds
of millions of them yes, hundreds of millions!
have been sold on the Home Shopping Network, where Mangano
is one of the networks most popular and successful presenters.
For Porto Vivo, Mangano has tapped the showmanship she learned
in television while emphasizing the comfort and conviviality
that mealtimes bring to Italian households. While any restaurant
experience involves a bit of theater and showmanship, the
Italian respect for simplicity, freshness and sheer enjoyment
of food is always at the forefront at Porto Vivo.
The upscale décor, with its dark woods, clean lines
and contemporary details, has a richness that is at the same
time comfortable. The main level dining is slightly more casual
than the upstairs fireplace room; both are at the same time
sophisticated and welcoming. On our recent visit we were seated
at our favorite table opposite the kitchen. From our banquette
seating we were privy to the workings of the bustling, part-open
kitchen across the main dining room.
In his first few months at the helm of that bustling kitchen,
Chef Balbo has made his mark. The menu does retain some favorites,
like the prosciutto, fig and arugula pizzette ($18), a satisfying
marriage of complimentary salty and sweet tastes thats
suitable for sharing to start a meal, or a great late-night
meal at the bar. But for the most part, the menu is Balbos.
Its simple, yet with a diversity in its offerings. One
can go for a simple pizzette and a salad, or choose from a
variety of sophisticated menu offerings. On our visit, we
went the classic route appetizer, entrée and
dessert to try as much of the menu as possible.
Appetizers are generous, so theres enough to share a
few among a table full of guests. Porto Vivo crab cocktail
($16), is lump crabmeat in a pool of tomato-vodka soup with
a lemon jam and celery spuma (Italian for froth)
swirled in. It is dramatically presented in an oversized bowl
with the individual components providing flavors for both
the eyes and mouth.
Delightful a dish as that was, it was overshadowed by the
burst of flavors in the Tuna and Watermelon salad ($13). Diced
Ahi tuna, watermelon and tomatoes with an intense yuzu emulsion,
proved to be a complex and sophisticated mix. Peppery basil,
sharp vinegar and pine nuts each brought their own music,
and all of it over a sprinkling of sea salt that danced with
the sweet watermelon. We could have ended the meal there only
because it left us so contented.
The realm of citrus flavors, vinegars and herbs seems a comfort
zone for the chef, and were eager to return for another
dance with a salad. The house salad with bibb lettuce, endive,
pears and blue cheese with a blood orange vinaigrette ($11)
sounds like it might do the trick, but wed also like
to take the roasted beet and ricotta salata salad ($9) with
aged sherry vinegar, roasted hazelnuts and citrus segments
for a spin.
Likewise, intriguing appetizers well try include the
roast octopus ($11) with dried chorizo, lemon, garlic, basil
and that aged sherry vinegar; and the classic buffalo mozzarella
($13) with its smoked sea salt, olive and basil oils and balsamic
We skipped the pasta selections, again thinking well
return. (Pass the Meatballs night beckons, but
more about that later.) Instead we dove right into composed
entrée plates. Filet mignon ($38) is prime beef served
simply with asparagus spears and Porto Vivo mac and cheese,
a baked, cheese-topped crock with truffle and a hint of something
sherry-like. The meat speaks for itself in this dish.
We also tried a special of slow roasted pork shank over mashed
potatoes. The chefs skills with the spice rack
this dish was rich with tarragon broke through any
heaviness, while broccoli rabe reveled in aromatic garlic.
Roasted lamb loin ($36) sounds similarly complex with its
cumin-scented eggplant and grappa-soaked
fried grapes, and it comes with Vivos signature
sautéed baby artichokes. Yeah, well be back,
though next time well probably opt for one of the chefs
tastings menus: five courses for $75 per person; or $45 for
a pasta tasting menu. Weve learned enough to trust the
Dessert seemed almost superfluous. We kept it simple, choosing
pound cake with vanilla gelato ($8) and fresh orange segments
only because the restaurant really seems to shine where fresh
fruit is involved. Molten chocolate cake with peanut butter
gelato tempted, as did a cheese and fruit platter.
Service was attentive throughout the night, even with the
demands of two large parties in the restaurant. The only disappointment
of the night was the coffee. Our advice is to ask before you
order whether theyve switched to a new supplier.
Being the brainchild of an inventive marketing whiz, Porto
Vivo is always trying something new. Live music in the lounge,
wine-paired dinners, Pass the Meatballs night
and sumptuous Sunday brunch provide something for everyone.
Coming up is Italian Week, a seven-night celebration of Italian
food with something different every night of the week from
Feb. 27 through March 4. A chefs tasting is set for