[media-credit name="Photo by Tequila Minsky " align="aligncenter" width="600"]
Everything about Rocco was old school, including its weathered sign.
BY TERENCE CONFINO | The traditional Italian restaurant Rocco in Greenwich Village has closed due to “greedy landlords,” as Rocco’s owner Antonio DaSilva says on the now-defunct restaurant’s voice greeting.
DaSilva, a third-generation restaurant owner, is the grandnephew of Rocco Stanziano, who first opened the restaurant, at 181 Thompson St., in 1922. According to the recorded telephone message, DaSilva intends to move the restaurant to a new location.
In November of last year, the New York City restaurant blog Eater reported that the traditional home-style dining spot’s lease was up at the end of 2011. And to renew that lease the landlord was asking for $18,000 a month — a $10,000 monthly increase from what DaSilva traditionally paid.
Assuming the lease are young up-and-comers Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, both chefs belonging to the Torrisi Italian Specialties team. Together with partner Jeff Zalaznick, the group operates a mini-chain of restaurants with two spots in Little Italy and a stand at Yankee Stadium.
Word is the Torrisi team struck a deal with Rocco restaurant’s landlord and then slyly advertised the restaurant takeover in a 16-second video on their Web site.
“It’s pretty bad and it’s a shame,” said Ralph Redillo, the superintendent of the restaurant’s building. “A lot of outsiders came into the neighborhood just for Rocco’s.”
Redillo, 52, cited the Italian eatery as a former “big mob joint,” which also drew its fair share of celebrities over the years. According to the super, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio dined there in the ’50s, and more recently Hollywood A-listers such as Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp paid the red sauce joint a visit.
Thompson St. local Jane Usyk used to go to Rocco at the special request of a Connecticut friend who personally knew DaSilva. With a smile, Usyk remembered the “very dramatic” and “colorful” personality of the chef as he approached customers adorned in his traditional tall white toque. Years back, Usyk added, she even dined at Rocco with Al Goldstein, the editor of Screw magazine.
The food at Rocco could be deemed typical southern Italian “but cooked to perfection,” according to the restaurant’s Web site. Among other dishes, the restaurant served up homemade gnocchi Gorgonzola, a savory roast rack of lamb and garlic grilled calamari served with white beans and baby greens.
For dessert lovers there was always hot or cold zabaglione — a dessert made of whipped egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine and served with fresh strawberries.
Pat Gombos was sipping drinks with some friends at the Blue Haven on the corner of West Houston St. when he heard that Rocco had closed.
He recalled a sendoff party held at the Italian eatery for a friend of his who was off to Iraq. It was just one of many memories that are quickly dissolving as yet another community staple falls prey to the tides of finance.
“Great prices, great food and great atmosphere,” Gombos said of Rocco. “I’ll totally miss it.”