By David Minsky
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Martorano, it's fair to say, is an arrogant chef. You consume what he sends out, you eat it how he wants it to be eaten, and you pay what he wants to charge you. If you're lucky, the dishes on the table will include a truffle-scented fettuccine Alfredo or his fist-sized meatballs -- fists modeled after Sylvester Stallone's, it should be pointed out, one of the Italian-American icons whose black-and-white movie stills decorate the walls. If you're not lucky, you'll still be delighted to scarf down his platter-size portion of veal Parmesan or "veal downtown," a savory concoction that combines scaloppini with a layer of ham, onions, peppers, marinara, and mozzarella cheese.
If you're thinking that this ultramoderne trattoria could be a set for The Sopranos, you're not only getting the right idea but you're making Martorano a happy man (and in the process making yourself just a little bit paranoid to sit with your back to the door). The Sopranos, the Godfather trilogy, even The Freshman -- that's what Martorano wants you to think of when you come through the door. If you can get through the door, that is. He's got dozens of television screens of every size posted in any available spot, and he incessantly plays certain films that glamorize the Italian Mafia, the way Tantra promotes the more enticing sexual positions by constantly screening the Kama Sutra. When a particularly juicy part comes on, be it a cursing-out or a beating-down, Martorano turns down the 1970s disco and turns up the volume of the TVs from the control panel posted right above the stovetop where he's holding forth in the open kitchen. He also flashes strobes and a variety of neon-hued lights at his whim, and I suspect he even has the thermostat for the restaurant's air-conditioning at his right hand as well. The noise level is at racetrack decibels, and the constant shift in atmospheric conditions could cause even a cat to lose perspective temporarily.
All in all, Steve Martorano, it's fair to say, is a control freak. And his customers love him for it, posting testimonials on Websites that read rather accurately: "I felt like I was in a Hollywood film production, as the patrons gave the place most of its character. I'll go back once I save up the money to return!" And, "This is the only restaurant I have ever been to where the owner tries to accommodate those who have been patiently waiting for a table." And then there's "Steve gives my mom a run for her money in the kitchen."
And even those who don't quite get it -- like the critics, Martorano might sneer -- come close. "I have never been there when I didn't wait at least two hours for a table. The food is excellent and comes in huge portions, but is highly overpriced. The music is very loud, so there won't be much conversation with your company. If you don't like your date, and you don't mind eating at 12:30 at night, and $500 is nothing for you to spend, then this is the place for you," notes one diner. Add that the Italian fare is as authentic and convincing as Al Pacino, and in the end, I don't think I could say it better myself.