Perusing the menus, nibbling on complimentary olive salad and Italian bread after being seated at the new 80-seat Averna Italian Steakhouse, one is likely to hear, “Is my son taking care of you?” or “Is everything good and everyone happy?” This is co-owner Sami Ametaj, checking in on tables, doing what a restaurateur who’s been in the industry for 39 years knows is necessary to be successful: to genuinely care about the customer experience.
A native Albanian who emigrated from Montenegro to America in the early ’80s, Ametaj’s first restaurant job was as a busboy at the now-defunct La Borsa di Roma in Manhattan. After just three months on the job, he was promoted to waiter. “A year or more was typical for such a move,” he says. “But the owner saw I cared about what I was doing.” He went on to wait tables at Peter Luger in Brooklyn and co-own restaurants in the Bronx, Mount Kisco, and Greenwich. Averna is his sole place now, which he co-owns with nephew Timmy Ametaj; his son Nick is captain and niece Alisa Kotja is hostess.
To head up the kitchen, Ametaj enlisted Chef Carlos del Cid, previously with the Connecticut-based Blackstones Restaurant Group. “I love the Rye community,” says del Cid, a town of Fairfield resident who is originally from Guatemala. “They appreciate quality and are willing to spend for it. When I have specials — swordfish, halibut — they always sell out. And I see a lot of returning customers.”
Steaks are from Master Purveyors in Manhattan and dry-aged 28 days. They are not marinated because, del Cid says, “They don’t need it. Right on the high heat broiler at 800 to 1,000 degrees.”
In addition to tender steaks, there’s a raw bar (much of the seafood comes from Norm Bloom & Son based out of Norwalk), five pasta dishes (the rigatoni Bolognese with Prime-aged ground meat is a winner), plus entrées such as pan-seared Chilean sea bass (another standout), grilled Colorado lamb chops, and on-the-bone chicken scarpariello.
There are 200 different wines, mostly Italian and Californian, to pair with your cut and seven signature cocktails (e.g, the Cloudy Manhattan consisting of Bulleit rye, Averna, orange bitters, and tonic). After dinner, order a glass of Averna, the Sicilian liqueur (like amaretto only less bitter) for which the restaurant is named, to toast Ametaj. “If a customer likes the experience. It makes me proud,” says Ametaj. “I have a passion for my customers. If I see someone frowning, I make sure to fix what is wrong.”
Averna Italian Steakhouse
17 Purdy Ave, Rye