Wanting to enhance their restaurant’s farm-to-table cred, many restaurateurs and chefs immerse themselves in secondary growing projects, such as starting rooftop herb gardens and turning nearby acreage into farmable fields.
Val Morano, director/principal designer of Morano Landscape Garden Design in Mamaroneck and co-owner of Ridgeway Garden Center in White Plains, did it in reverse. “I was a gardener first,” says the Harrison resident, “and then became a restaurateur.”
Morano is partner at Lago Ristorante, which opened in May 2015 after he transformed what had been a sports bar into a 120-seat eatery offering Neapolitan cuisine. With Lago Ristorante, Morano’s gardening know-how was immediately put to use.
“We have a 3,000-square-foot garden 10 minutes from the restaurant, with pear and apple trees, Concord grapes, and all sorts of vegetables and herbs,” Morano says. His family also has 2,500 olive trees on 30 acres across three properties in the town of Malvito, in the Calabria region of Italy. “To have on each table bottles of olive oil that my family makes is very exciting,” he says.
Cooking up the harvests is Italian-born and Naples-trained Chef Salvatore Esposito, who formerly owned the well-reviewed Ottimo in the Flatiron District of New York City. Esposito also pioneered Neapolitan-style pizza in Manhattan and has been recognized as a top Italian chef by the James Beard Foundation.
A bounty of produce from Lago’s garden
Pat LaFrieda meats are used; bread comes from the Bronx’s Il Forno; pastas are made in-house (the ribbony, al dente pappardelle is exceptional), as are most desserts; charcuterie boards feature imported Italian meats and cheeses; and classic Neapolitan street food called panuozzi, or sandwiches made with charred pizza dough, are a rare county find and a must-try on the lunch menu.
“I’ve always appreciated knowing where the ingredients in my meals come from,” says Morano. “My lunch breaks from the garden center were often at either of my grandmother’s [houses, in Harrison and Mamaroneck], where they would cook me dishes using items from their gardens.”
97 Lake St, West Harrison