Manhattan’s Upper East Side provides diners with a plethora of delicious, exciting restaurants to explore. If, among this vast array, you seek authentic Italian cuisine mixed with a warm, friendly atmosphere, look no further than Paola’s! Growing up in Italy, Chef and owner Paola Bottero knows that good cuisine comes from using the freshest ingredients and handcrafting her dishes with time-tested, traditional techniques. She also makes each customer a member of her extended family, ensuring that diners receive excellent service and a wonderful dining experience. Whether you’re looking for a quiet, romantic evening, a place to host a truly special party or event, or even a way to have gourmet Italian cuisine delivered to your home, Paola’s can delight diners of all kinds! I spoke to Chef Bottero to learn more about how she incorporates old-fashioned quality and values into her innovative Manhattan location.
RD: What special demands does your location in the Upper East Side of New York City place on your restaurant?
CB: Paola’s is located on Upper Madison Avenue in the iconic Carnegie Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This area is home to many families, in the heart of museum mile, near many schools, hospitals and businesses. We have to be ready for everything and everyone! We welcome families with familiar hospitality, offer the business diner tight service so they can focus, greet tourists and visitors with a New York welcome, and give our regulars their preferences without having to ask. Our challenge is to meet a diverse set of needs and be flexible. We have to assess the customer instantly and serve up what is appropriate. This requires our staff to be on the ball and have a varied “service toolbox”. We train them as such, and they are wonderful at it – I give them a lot of credit.
RD: Your son Stefano works with you at the restaurant. How does this family dynamic impact Paola’s?
CB: Like any family, there are highs and lows, and everything is brought in to work. And, like a family, we have to work together, work it out, and get the job done. Also, you have to know when to put the personal aside and turn on the professional. We are a family servicing families, and I believe that adds to the genuine experience at Paola’s.
RD: Obviously, your Italian heritage influences your menu! How else did growing up in Italy influence the experience customers receive at Paola’s?
CB: Italy is of course well known for the freshest of ingredients and the highest quality of food, and we maintain that tradition here at Paola’s. “Homemade and handmade” I like to say; and our customers benefit from the wonderful food customs I know from my family. However, even more so, Italian culture emphasizes the importance of people to people connections. It is important for Italians to get to know each other, and feeding people is highly personal. We extend that tradition here at Paola’s – it’s second nature really – and we take the time to get to know our customers. It’s one of the things that make it fun!
RD: Congratulations on Paola’s upcoming 30-year anniversary! What are some secrets to staying in business for so long?
CB: Thank you! There is no secret formula for success in this business – I wish there were! It’s the time honored adherence to excellent customer service, highest standards of food quality, and daily perseverance to run a tight business. However, I will add that in the last 10 years there has to have been a willingness to embrace the new technologies that have invaded the restaurant world. We have gone automated with reservation systems, wrapped our arms around online menus and reviews, and even rebranded in anticipation of our 30th anniversary. New website, Facebook presence, logo, menus . . . it’s all part of the new vocabulary of being a contemporary restaurateur. Follow me on Twitter, right?!
RD: Do you have any exciting plans to celebrate Paola’s 30th anniversary?
CB:Well, refreshing the brand has been exciting this past year as we not only look back, but think ahead. We are also doing some fun things to recognize our milestone and celebrate. We are producing a commemorative keepsake tin that we will fill with handmade biscotti and give away to all our guests during the month of October – our actual anniversary. We do plan to be innovative with that effort by not only making a traditional biscotti, but formulating a gluten free/nut free version to keep up with the times! Also, recently, I unearthed our original menu from 1983 and we plan to feature several original dishes in a celebratory dinner. It’s really going to be quite exciting and all our customers will be involved.
RD: Tell me a little bit about the atmosphere and menu diners will experience at
CB: Because so many of our diners are regulars and neighbors, there is always a festive and familiar feeling about the dining room. People come here to celebrate or relax, and others join in that feeling. It is always remarkably upbeat and jovial, and the dining room is full every night.
RD: What are some of your favorite menu items right now?
CB: Oh boy! Tough one – I am attached to everything! I will say that we are able to get some really beautiful and authentic ingredients direct from Italy these days, so it’s wonderful to be able to offer fresh sheep milk ricotta from Rome which we serve with our polpettine (meatballs), beautiful prosciutto from Parma and authentic burrata, a creamy form of mozzarella. None of these items were available years ago and we had to make do with what we had. Now we can get “made in Italy” and it’s quite exciting. I always have a special place for truffles, so I love our Agnolotti al Tartufo, which is a veal and porcini stuffed ravioli with a red wine reduction, shaved grana cheese and of course the black truffles on top! The pasta is made daily. Also, I love a bowl of mussels and our Cozze Marinara are served with a fresh tomato sauce and are flown in straight from Maine. With a nice glass of wine, it’s perfect!