Monday, October 24, 2011

Marchi's Restaurant: Where You Get It All Without Asking For It

Dining in New York is a wonderful experience at Marchi's Restaurant
By Mitch Broder

I sat in Francesca and Lorenzo’s bedroom and ate for two hours straight.

I wish that Francesca and Lorenzo could have been there with me, not that I would have shared.

But though they are gone, it was their food that I ate — all five courses of it — at one of the great forgotten meals of Manhattan: dinner at Marchi’s Restaurant.

The key word here is “one,” because that’s what Marchi’s serves — one meal, the same meal, every night, six nights a week. Like many buildings in the city, its building has a sign that says “No Menus.” But here the sign has double meaning. There’ve always been no menus at Marchi’s.

The inside of an old apartment has now become the spot for dining in New York
No, that's not us.
I’ve posted the tale of how  Francesca and Lorenzo Marchi’s apartment got turned into a restaurant in the thirties and a one-meal restaurant in the forties. But I didn’t try the meal. That was wrong. I suffered deep regret. I returned to make amends. My selflessness is self-serving.

I was seated in the part of the main dining room that was indeed once the bedroom and now feels like a living room where you can settle in, which you do. My hosts were the Marchis’ son Mario and his wife Christine, who run the restaurant with Mario’s brothers and treat you like guests in their home, which it still is.

My own guest was Patricia, who unlike me can cook and whose culinary observations transcend my customary “Um” and “Ick.” Our waiter welcomed us. I had the dinner. Patricia, too, had the dinner. There were no questions and no answers — only certainty in an uncertain world.

Monogramed plates await you when you're dining in New York at Marchi's Restaurant
The meal began with warm bread. Um. Then came the first course, with an artful centerpiece of honeydew, radishes, celery, tomatoes, and fennel. This was accompanied by a platter of salami and a platter of Lorenzo Salad, featuring red cabbage and tuna. Patricia wanted the recipe. She didn’t get it.

The signature dish of Lasagna at Marchi's Restaurant in New York
The second course was the one that I was most excited about: the Lorenzo Lasagna. Christine calls it their signature dish. The bowls arrived. I rose to photograph them. “It smells so good,” Patricia said. “Hurry up and take your picture.” I decided to hear that as supportive.

At a five-course meal you need to make choices, and I made mine: I chose to have all of my lasagna, no matter what lay ahead. Patricia said: “It’s a very delicate lasagna.” I said: “Um. Pass the bread.” We had now both had enough dinner. We had three courses to go.

A fried piece of catfish for those dining in New York at March's Restaurant

The next was fried fish, which the waiter said was cod but which Mario said was catfish. Either way, it was skillfully done. “It’s creamy, with a light crunchy topping,” Patricia said. It came with green beans and beets, most of which I left for her. I’m famously generous with my green beans and beets.

The main course when dining in New York was roast chicken and roast veal at March's Restaurant
Soon we were served roast chicken and sliced roast veal, along with a platter of sautéed mushrooms and a bowl of tossed salad. The chicken was as tasty as any I’ve had, yet Patricia didn’t say a word. It turned out she was in poultry paradise: “I was too busy eating it to speak.”

The dessert course was delicious for anyone dining in New York at Marchi's RestaurantAt last we came to dessert, which had no chocolate and yet was perfect. It comprised fresh fruit, provolone, warm lemon fritters, and crackly crostoli. I had a perfect orange and a perfect banana and the crostoli and the fritter, which was like warm pudding with a crispy coating, and which I thus forgot to shoot.

Patricia and I had a wonderful, charming, old-fashioned homemade meal, and we marveled that people weren’t still lining up outside to get it, the way they used to.

“Back in the sixties you had a full meal,” Mario said. “If you were Italian you sat down for three hours. With people today, it’s ‘Gimme a sandwich, gimme a beer, I’m on my way.’”

Too bad for people. But not for all of them. Marchi’s still has its clientele, and its absence of menu choices appears to be an asset.

It allows you to savor the meal again and again, like a good book, Mario said: “By the fourth or fifth time, you really enjoy what’s being put in front of you.”

Marchi's restaurant offers those dining in New York few selections buyt a chance to savor their meal

Take your time at Marchis, 251 East 31st Street, at Second Avenue, New York City.


  1. Great line...."I wish that Francesca and Lorenzo could have been there with me, not that I would have shared." I don't blame you, although it sounds like there was enough to share. Do they give you a doggy bag, or is it too rude to ask in such a fine establishment? I would have asked.

  2. My favorite line...certainty in an uncertain world. Can't ask for more than that!

  3. I made Lorenzo Salad tonight...not exactly but as close as I'll probably get. Thanks, Marchi's, for the great food!

  4. I remember when they didn't serve bread on the table, so you didn't get filled up too soon. Also, an entire fried whitefish was expertly deboned and served tableside by the good Lord, it was outstanding! These were charming traditions. And, I would pay dearly for the lasagna recipe - truly there is nothing else like it. Melts in your mouth. Still is the best...OK, now it's time to make another trip into the city!