Let’s face it: New York’s Sutton Place, located in the East 50’s near the East River, isn’t exactly known as a happening part of town. The restaurant options, for one, are few and far between, and the places that do exist are average at best.
Enter Pino Luongo, a renowned restaurateur and chef, who has transformed the area’s dining scene and can be credited with turning this sleepy stretch of Manhattan into a culinary destination in its own right. I like to call him “the culinary king of Sutton Place.”
Luongo has a long history of running successful Manhattan restaurants. He’s the talent behind the still storied hotspots Le Madri in Chelsea and Coco Pazzo on the Upper East Side. Both are decades-old institutions that are now closed; yet, their fame, along with Luongo’s, still remains.
On Sutton Place, Luongo has two eateries to his name: Morso, open since 2011 and serving upscale but approachable Italian regional cuisine. A half block away, there’s Coco Pazzeria, opened since 2021 and offering delicious pizzas, along with a variety of raw seafood and pastas.
Many of the neighborhood’s residents are regulars at both establishments and dine several times a week.
Mike Lynn Salthouse, for example, says, “As a more than weekly diner at Morso, I can confidently say that this charming Italian gem has stolen our hearts. In fact, we eat there so often that our children tell their friends we live in an “assisted living facility” as it is housed in our building. Our families have held every special occasion there for last 10 years, including a major birthday party for 80 people this past October. It’s also worth noting Morso’s prices are reasonable for the quality of the dining experience. We feel privileged to feel part of the Morso family.”
Kate McGrath is another fan. “Alongside Pino’s unique talent as the restaurateur extraordinaire who introduced Tuscan cuisine to America is his how he makes everyone who comes to his restaurants feel like family – and then builds that family into a community,” she says. “I specifically remember Saturday nights during the pandemic when two friends and I ate at outside at Morso every week (even in the cold of the winter) just to see and keep in touch with our neighbors. This tradition of family and community continues on to the present day at Morso and Coco Pazzeria.”
Now, it’s time to hear from Luongo himself about why he decided to establish a presence on Sutton Place, how he’s different from other Italian restaurants and what he hopes to do next. Our interview follows.
Why did you choose to open restaurants in Sutton Place?
I have always been a pioneer and liked a challenge.
I would refer you to my restaurant Sapore di Mare: it was located in an unlikely Tudor house on the side of Montauk Highway and became a very successful Hampton’s restaurant in the 80’s and 90’s.
In Sutton Place, I saw an underappreciated residential community in the middle of Manhattan, where many customers from my prior locations now made their homes. I found a clientele eager for fine dining in their neighborhood, a place where I could get reasonably priced rent and the real deal breaker – accessible outdoor space. Thus, much like the proverb, “If the Mountain won’t go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the Mountain,” I decided to bring fine dining to Sutton Place.
New York, especially the neighborhood, and the Upper East Side overall, is full of Italian restaurants. How is Morso different?
It is true, there are a lot of Italian restaurants on the Upper East Side, but I find it exciting to take on the competition. Their claims of being the best Italian restaurant always pushed me to be my best. However, many of them are generic while I do regional cuisine. Morso is primarily Tuscan, but I include dishes from many other regions as well.
Tell me about the style of cooking and some of the signature dishes.
My style is one inspired by ingredients and the seasonality of the ingredients. I am against all ingredients, all year-round.
In the late fall and winter, I like game dishes and more hearty food while in the summer, my emphasis is on seafood.
Some of my most accoladed dishes are the Rigatoni alla Butera, Spaghetti Rustica, Pollo Martini, Stracotto (Tuscan pot roast) and Grigliata di Mare Mista or mixed grilled seafood.
What was the impetus to opening Coco Pazzeria?
About eight years into Morso being a Sutton Place staple, I felt the need for residents to have another place to dine. One thing that was missing was a restaurant-style pizzeria where customers would sit down, enjoy table service or dining at the bar, hang out and enjoy their pizza or other dishes.
How is the eatery unique from other pizza spots in town?
The concept is female oriented with the pink décor and the oysters and bubbles in addition to pizza, we offer a full range of salads, appetizers, pastas, desserts, including Focaccia Nutella, and our very own appetizer, the Buzzetti, a mini, half-calzone with four different fillings. Customers don’t come in a grab a slice and go, but they stay for the experience of drinks and a good meal in an energetic environment.
Why should people eat at either Morso or Coco Pazzeria?
They eat at Morso or Coco Pazzeria to join their friends and neighbors for a meal with excellent food, made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and served by a staff that welcomes them like family.
At one point or another, both restaurants have been called Sutton Place’s version of “Cheers.” The two restaurants provide the neighborhood with more opportunities to dine out more often. and do not dilute each other’s business as long as the experience at both is positive in terms of service, quality and food.
Tell me about how you think Sutton Place has evolved since you opened here.
When I opened, it was a sleepy community with few dining options. I was able to offer a dining experience that checked all of the boxes in terms of food, experience and service. Over the years, the more mature customer base began to appreciate the many amenities I could offer such as outdoor dining, holiday special menus, live music and special occasion parties and events. As the amenities became better known, they became more popular and were patronized by a larger customer base, drawing from neighborhoods beyond Sutton Place.
What do you think that the area is still missing, and do you have plans to open more places here?
The area is missing the pre-pandemic way of life! The area is missing the many residents who left during the pandemic and have not returned. We need those residents to return to Sutton Place and re-join our vibrant community.
After eight years, I returned to Morso, Tuscan pioneer Pino Luongo’s Mediterranean restaurant under the 59th Street Bridge, as their guest. “Morso” is Italian for small bites, with most dishes offered either “Tutto” (regular sized) or “Morso” (a smaller bite, generally two -thirds the size of Tutto).
What a fabulous option! Since we were sampling lots, we ordered all Morso portions with the kitchen dividing those for us. Prices in this post indicate both sizes when available.
Our first taste was of their polpo alla griglia, some of the most tender grilled octopus I’ve ever had (Yes, that good!) with arugula and roasted tomatoes ($22/30). Don’t miss. Our salads were just as good. The cavoletti consisted of crispy Brussels sprouts over arugula and thinly sliced fennel with crumbled feta cheese ($18) and the evening’s special blood orange supremes with fresh fennel ($18) with fresh mint. The fennel would have been easier to eat if had been thinner slices as in the other salad.
I’d recommend both the spaghetti with caramelized onions, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese ($18/24) and the spinach pappardelle tossed with braised cabbage and crumbles sausage sprinkled with grated pecorino romano cheese ($18/24). I had to restrain myself from finishing it all as I knew we had also ordered the seared cod special in a tomato and black olives sauce topped with shrimp and accompanied by diced beets mixed with kale ($32) and the sole in a white wine butter sauce served with zucchini and eggplant ($24/36).
Dessert ($13) of pear tart tartin, a warm tart with gelato all drizzled with caramel sauce plus the evenings blueberry tart special with housemade lemon gelato ($13). Yummy combination.
Well worth the trip!
Upper East Side
420 E 59th St(between First and York)
New York, NY 10022
Hundreds paid tribute after the passing of legendary celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain this week. Page Six spoke with friends and peers who shared their thoughts below:
Chef Pino Luongo, Bourdain’s mentor and one of his early bosses
Anthony started his career as the executive chef with me at Coco Pazzo Teatro [in Midtown]. Immediately I saw that he was a guy with a great sense of humor; very sharp-minded, very opinionated about many different things. He was good-looking, confident, had a big voice, and smoked Marlboro Reds — everything I like in a person. He used to make me laugh a lot. It was not funny jokes, it was funny dark observations on the reality we lived in.
We clicked, even though his inclination was [as] more of a French chef than a Italian chef. One of the only things we had in common in food was that we both like Brandade, a French salted cod — it’s where Italian meets French cooking. He made a killer Brandade. It was my favorite among all the French dishes he wanted to cook.
At the time he was working for me, he was thinking about writing what became “Kitchen Confidential.” I knew he was going to be a great writer because he wrote the way he talked.
“Anthony B. was the Hemingway of gastronomy.”
For a generation of chefs and food enthusiasts, Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential was a passport to the seamy, sexy world of restaurant kitchens.
The celebrated TVculinary and travel journalist died from an apparent suicide in his hotel room in France, where he was working on a TV show about culinary traditions, according to CNN. He was found by his longtime friend, chef Eric Ripert.
It was a tragic loss for the food world.
Chefs and friends paid tribute to him on Friday.
“I loved the guy. I really got to know him when I was opening Coco Pazza Teatro around ’93. Anthony was already working at Le Madri. One day he called me, he said ‘I’d like to be Executive Chef at Teatro.’ I said, ‘Let’s meet.’ He came and we smoked Marlboro Reds. It was one thing we had in common. I told him to bring me something he’s passionate about. [He later] came to see me, he opened up a container, and it was a beautiful brandade. Somehow he knew that I loved brandade. He used to make a killer one. For a while we picked at the brandade and smoked our cigarettes, and that’s when I got to know him—how bright he was. Not just about food. So I gave him the Teatro job. But slowly I came to realize that although he was talented, the pressure of the kitchen was bothering him. While Anthony likes to be among the people, he was not the leader. One night I walked into Teatro and the dining room was full, but there was no food on any of the tables. I went into kitchen, and Anthony said, ‘I can’t be here, salad this, salad that.’ I said, ‘I’ll expedite, you get behind the line.’ We managed to serve dinner. After that, we took a walk and smoked on 46th Street. He said, ‘I’m leaving, I’m going to take a break, maybe I’m going to cook some French.’ And then, all of a sudden he wrote a book [Kitchen Confidential, in which Luongo is famously portrayed as the ‘Dark Prince of Italian Fine Dining’]. The last time I saw him, a couple months ago, he talked about how happy he was to be a Dad.
We need more people like Anthony Bourdain in this world.” – Pino Luongo, chef-owner of Coco Pazzo
It seemed as though the entire Sutton Place neighborhood had gathered at Morso on a recent Tuesday evening. The contemporary 95-seat restaurant, lined with vintage 1950s-style graphics, was packed with couples, groups of friends, families and a handful of solo diners.
They sat in the white-tablecloth dining room and at the hammered-copper bar; several relaxed on a patio that would soon be enclosed for the winter. Others milled about, socializing with regulars and staffers.
Restaurants in this upscale part of Manhattan are known for pricey menus that feed a deep-pocketed and perhaps a more distant clientele. Morso is different.
Since it opened five years ago, on East 59th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place, the polished but unpretentious Italian restaurant has become part of the neighborhood’s fabric.
Pino Luongo sat down at the table to join us. “Did you enjoy the pasta?” he began. Our immediate response was, “Absolutely.” The kitchen had prepared a few of Morso’s staple dishes for: the Pollo Martini, the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, the Carciofi, and the Carciofi Fritti. Pino pointed between the latter two, explaining how, in focusing on using fresh, seasonal ingredients, he is constantly inspired to build several dishes around a single ingredient. Our bucatini was prepared before our very eyes in the kitchen, where the sous-chef spoke of a camaraderie driven by ideals set with Pino’s presence. It is no anomaly to find Pino in the kitchen most nights, getting his hands dirty and making sure each dish comes out the best it can be – which, we learned, of course means “always cooking the pasta in with the sauce.
The menu offers dishes available as morso (smaller servings), or tutto (full size).The result is incredible food, cooked with care and precisely seasoned.Here is a place you are going to want to return to again and again.Affordable, excellent and run with style and panache by a hands on Pino Luongo, who after all, is a legend in his own right.
MIDTOWN— Flo Fab reports that Pino Luongo, owner of Centolire on the Upper East Side, is opening a restaurant at 420 East 59th Street in the spring. It will be called Morso.
The name of the restaurant is “Morso” which translates to “bite”. Genious idea. Perhaps the nicest thing about the menu is that most of the dishes are offered in two sizes: morso (bite) and tutto (all). There’s a bit of pop to the restaurant as well. Walls are covered in poster art that hits a Warhol meets Fellini feeling.
The restaurant is elegant without feeling stuffy. The mod-style graphic designs adorning the walls are fresh, modern and playful which sets the mood perfectly for the evening’s meal.I enjoyed every last bite at Morso and recommend it heartily. If you find yourself on the East side of Manhattan, make your way over.
Morso is a culmination of a life in food and a passion for culinary excellence.With the essence of his homeland at heart and a truly original style of cooking, Luongo shaped the Italian menus and restaurants we consider as classics today.
The Latest From Pino Luongo: The location, 420 East 59th Street, has plenty of history. It had been the luxurious Palace, then the first edition of Sandro’s, then Bouterin and, very briefly, it was a Turkish restaurant. Next spring it is to become Morso, a new Italian restaurant from Pino Luongo, the owner and frequent cook at Centolire on the Upper East Side. For his new place, Mr. Luongo, who once owned Tuscan Square in Rockefeller Center, is looking back to Le Madri, his restaurant in Chelsea.
Southern Italian and Mediterranean dishes at this new Upper East Side restaurant come in large (tutto) or small (morso) portions. Chef Timothy Ryan previously cooked at Bouley, Picholine and Le Cirque.
Each meal was perfectly paced by a courteous and well-versed wait staff, and unfolded in an airy and elegant dining room accentuated by mood lighting and a blithe décor inspired by 1960s Italian poster art.
Pino Luongo (Centolire, Coco Pazzo), New York’s original champion of Tuscan cuisine, will debut Morso, his first restaurant in nine years, on September 30. Bridging the gap between nibblers and big-ticket diners, the toque takes a novel approach to the menu, dividing it up by main ingredient (vegetables, meats, poultry) and offering the majority of the dishes in large (tutto) or small (morso) portions.
Morso, in its bright conviviality and focused menu, is a winning contrast to the faux-rustic trattoria style of the past couple of years, and the food, while straightforward and traditional, has small touches that make big differences, not least in the perfect al dente tenderness of the pastas, which so many NYC Italian restaurants continue to botch.
I am usually disappointed by Italian deserts, but Morso delivered one of the best slices of cheese cake I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a few. For those who live on the Upper East Side and are always looking for a wonderful post-movie or after-work place to go, your wait is over. Morso is a keeper.
The restaurant gives off a cool modern vibe in an effortless way. Morso truly is fabulous. It is a restaurant with sophisticated dishes with fresh ingredients. The décor is warm and inviting. The staff was very friendly on both occasions and I look forward to returning soon.
An under-the-radar Italian joint dubbed Morso quietly opened in Midtown East where, as anyone familiar with the ‘hood knows, a solid new restaurant is a very welcome addition.The menu, which is quite large, will feature traditional options like osso buco and steamed mussels with garlic and chorizo. A 70-seat alfresco space will open in April 2012 and feature views of the Queensborough Bridge and the trams to Roosevelt Island.