Feasts for the senses — and the palate

| vschneps@queenscourier.com |

I’m an unabashed romantic and I recently had the pleasure of finding a restaurant that is now one of my top picks for romance. Fabulous flowers enhance the entrance and then each table boasts a spectacular view of Manhattan. Each dish served is beautifully presented and looks right out of a gourmet magazine. Tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, The River Cafe has maintained its famous reputation for decades.

Of course I had heard about it and went there maybe 35 years ago, but now I’m in Brooklyn more often, thanks to our newspapers there. I had the chance to meet my son Josh for lunch before our different meetings. At first I suggested we go to the new location of Grimaldi’s at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. When he couldn’t find a spot to park I said, “Let’s go down the block to The River Cafe, where they have valet parking.”

I had recently met the majordomo behind the superbly-successful River Cafe, Buzzy O’Keeffe. What an extraordinary self-made man he is. He has one of the finest restaurants in New York City and also owns the Water Club, sitting on the Manhattan side of the East River; Pershing Square on 42nd Street and Grand Central Station; and the recently-acquired Liberty Warehouse, a catering hall in the new hot neighborhood of Red Hook, as well as the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

I had tried to find the Liberty Warehouse a few times and got lost the first two tries, but I am a persistent person. I’m so happy I didn’t give up. I found it at the edge of the Brooklyn “docks” neighborhood. I drove down a long driveway and felt like I was heading right into the water. It really was a warehouse and has been reborn with loving attention to detail and a big investment. The interior space has a handsome edge since the designers took advantage of the old brick interiors and added warm touches throughout. What most impressed me were the large balconies they created overlooking the harbor. It took my breath away as I saw the face of the Statue of Liberty. What a view! I was mesmerized. It was such a surprise to come upon this gem of a place at what seemed like the end of the world.

I did find my way back to the highway more easily and directly than when I arrived. I hope that one of these days I can invite all of you to a party there. I know you will be as impressed as I was!

And I did get to go back to Grimaldi’s later, also a few steps from the East River, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Dear friend Frank Ciolli, the owner, invited me and my husband Stu, along with MaryAnn and Joe Mattone and Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, to dinner.

What a dinner it was!

We began with a packed antipasto plate overflowing with meats, cheeses and olives. Then came the three different pizzas, one of which First Lady Michelle Obama has also eaten. No wonder Grimaldi’s has the reputation of the best pizza in New York — the thin, crispy crust is topped with luscious tomato sauce. My favorite was with sausage and mushrooms. There are endless choices on the full Italian menu.

We also had a cheese calzone, overflowing with ricotta. Wow! It was all accompanied by a rich Chianti from their well-stocked wine cellar. A bonus for patrons is the singing accordion player who performs regularly at the Brooklyn location. I was very impressed at how Frank left our table a few times to say thank you to guests as they left. Grimaldi’s is a family affair where one of Frank’s relatives acts as the manager. Besides great pizza and great service there is a top-floor space perfect for parties. In Grinaldi’s new home, just a few steps from their former place, is a chance to have a unique dining experience. Oh yes, there are also locations in Douglaston and Garden City. Try it, you’ll love it.