I visited La Marmite Restaurant this weekend. This restaurant has been a Williston Park landmark for over 40 years. When I made that right-hand turn into the driveway and parked under the red awning I entered another world. The atmosphere at la Marmite is aided by the building which is the restored Collins farmhouse built way back in 1904.
It is clear that much love and care has gone into the making of this fine French-Northern Italian restaurant and I think much of the charm stems straight from its proud owner Renzo Pedrazzi and his partner Manuel Gomez.
Renzo was born in Parma, Italy where he learned the restaurant business from his two uncles. He soon sailed to America at the age of 17 where he landed a job at Quo Vadis the most fashionable restaurant in Manhattan.
Renzo learned the art of service well and some of his amazing stories come from his winters in Miami where he worked at the Eden Rock and regularly served clients like Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Marilyn Monroe, Doris Day, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr.
He told me that the crush of fans was so intense wherever Frank Sinatra went that he had to have an army of bodyguards around him at all times.
After sometime there and at the Four Seasons in New York, Pedrazzi landed the prestigious job as manager at the Meadowbrook Club here on Long Island. He managed the Meadowbrook Club for 10 years and then bought La Marmite in 1974, which was called The Copper Pot at the time. And the list of celebrities seemed to have followed him here to Williston Park.
At La Marmite he has served dinner to Robert Kennedy, Gov. George Pataki, Nelson Doubleday, and Nelson DeMille. They all come back to this country manor house because of the food, the atmosphere, the privacy and the charm of its owner and staff.
When you enter the home it is very much like you are entering a different and special world. As I was given the tour of the rooms I entered one of the small private dining rooms upstairs with the chandeliers, fireplaces and woodwork. I took a peak past the curtains out the widow and there was a big sign of CVS Pharmacy staring straight back at me. I shut the curtains fast and began to pray that my visit inside this quiet enclave would last as long as possible.
We were served by the head waiter Gerry Molfetas, who has some interesting stories as well. If you visit ask him to tell you about the time he was working on a 72-day world cruise and what it felt like to be on a ship negotiating 60-foot waves in the middle of the Atlantic.
The dinner came and we were served escargot, seafood crepe, Caesar salad, rack of lamb, salmon over risotto and strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. The cuisine has the elegance of high French cuisine and the pleasure of Italian food. Satisfying and tasty.
We all work so hard here in Williston Park and rush about so much we have not time to breathe or think or talk. It was such a joy to slow down and to enter another world with an elegant European grace to it. It reminded me of a meal I had in the famous Cibrio Restaurant in Florence a few years ago. My wife leaned over and whispered in my ear: “we’ve been here an hour and a half and we are still on the appetizers!”
As I have said before the Italians know how to live life. They call it Dolce Far Niente or the “sweet doing nothing.”
The Italians have learned this fine art and you can learn it to by going to La Marmite and asking for Renzo to entertain you with some of his Frank Sinatra or Marilyn Monroe stories. But hurry because he retires within the month. If you go you will see that times slows at La Marmite, conversation expands and you begin to breathe easier.
And if you are worried about the price which really is okay, think of it this way. To get a comparable experience you will have to fly to Florence, which will cost you $4,000 in airfare alone.
Remember Dolce Far Niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. Nothing but talking and laughing and eating fine food. I have always loved perfect things. La Marmite is one such perfect thing, right here in Williston Park.