Isola Restaurant Opens on Shelter Island

(This article first appeared in the August 30, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


As my great-grandmother used to say (in her thick Italian accent),

“Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare.” Translation: eat to live, don’t live to eat. Make every bite count.

Customers are making the most of their every forkful at Shelter Island’s latest culinary sensation. Walk through the Historic Heights District and you’re bound to see a new neighbor in town, Isola. Taking up residence where Sweet Tomato’s once stood, at 15 Grand Avenue, this freshly designed Italian restaurant provides locals and visitors with seasonally, locally-sourced ingredients inspired by the island flavors of Italia (after all, Isola means “island” in Italian).

Upon entering this 170-seat restaurant, I was greeted immediately with a tremendously warm smile by the owner, Brad Kitkowski.

“I have a sincere love for Shelter Island, so the chance to become a part of the island for the long term really appealed to me,” Kitowski expressed. “Shelter Island is a special place, the Heights have an amazing history, and I am passionate about great food and wine. It’s a complete dream come true.”

Once I was seated, rosemary bread with green olives in olive oil arrived. An Isola Spritz — elderflower, grapefruit, and Prosecco – was the ideal drink for my summer evening, or any evening in fact.

Though Isola debuted over July Fourth weekend, it’s still being unraveled dish by dish. Executive chef Seth Nathan brings along with him 17 years of cooking experience, which was first introduced with a fritto misto — fried calamari, shrimp, saffron aioli, scallop, and preserved lemon. The scallop stood out with its plump, ever so subtle taste. More, please.

Next, my server Jordan brought out Kobe meatballs — a signature beef blend with tomato, ricotta salate, and focaccia. Basil topped the meatballs in all of their savory flavor. The entire dish is reminiscent of Naples. With a youthful, informative personality that enhanced the atmosphere, Jordan detailed the reasons why Kobe beef is a superior meat chosen by the restaurant.

Sitting down to discuss life and food, Kitowski was enthusiastic. “I truly love the Bolognese pappardelle with a nice cold glass of rosé after dinner service has ended. Just the perfect cap to my night.”

My pasta dishes spanned the Italian countryside, from sea to farm. The linguine vongole dish featured garlic, white wine, and preserved lemons topped with tasty Peconic clams. Next came bucatini with amatriciana sauce, guanciale, San Marzano tomatoes, and pecorino.

Guanciale is a savory Italian cured meat made of pork jowls and paired with the thickness of the bucatini became my favorite meal of the night. This plate is enough motivation to get anyone through that door!

The restaurant also has personal-sized pizzas, for eating solo or even sharing, if you’re into that sort of thing. A standout is a Tonno pizza — tuna, wild arugula, red onion, preserved lemon, and San Marzano tomatoes. Mangia!

An interesting and unique choice is the touch of preserved lemon that accompanies most dishes. While other restaurants may blend into the background in a supersaturated market of Italian cuisine (then again, can you ever have too much Italian food?), Isola is bound to stand out due to its zesty twist on classic dishes.

Having spent some time living in northern Spain and southern France, it’s evident that Chef Nathan is a master of his kitchen.

The culinary creativity of Nathan and Kitowski is making its mark on Shelter Island. “The community has been great. I think there was a great deal of interest to see what type of restaurant would open in this historic building in a very central part of the island, so we have had so many guests coming to check out the menu, renovations, and decor,” said Kitowski.

“We love hearing their stories of their past experiences and relationships with the space. We want everyone, tourists and locals, to feel welcome and relaxed whenever they are with us.”

To end a night of delicacies, I enjoyed the homemade panna cotta made with lavender, orange, and Amarena cherry, and homemade tiramisu featuring marscarpone, espresso, and cacao. As a mild tiramisu snob, I was pleased – finishing every bite and almost ordereding a second. However, the table next to me indulged in a Nutella pizza — let me repeat, Nutella pizza — that is sure to be on my order next time.

Whether you choose to dine in the bar, the dining room, or al fresco on the covered porches, Isola is open seven days a week with new specials each day. For your Sunday night dinner, partake in its popular $19 Chicken Parm special with bucatini and salad.

“We are loving the summer, but also looking forward to the fall including football Sundays in the bar with Chef Nathan’s wings and some local beers on tap. The island is spectacular in the fall,” Kitowski concluded.

Manna Restaurant: An Authentic Sicilian Experience

(This article first appeared in the January 25, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


When the opportunity arose to experience Manna Restaurant in Water Mill, I knew I’d be in for a flavorful evening. Situated at the reminiscent location of Mirko’s, a restaurant known for catering to a wealthy clientele, that closed its doors in 2013 after a 30 year run, Manna proudly wows its customers.

Chef Marco Barrila grew up in Sicily. Like scenes out of a foreign film, he spent most days working with his grandmother at the family trattoria “La Caraffa,” built in the 1800s. At the age of 24 Barrila moved to New York and began his journey working at culinary landmarks such as Carmines and Fiorello’s Lincoln Center. Then, with the opening of his own location, NOI on Bleeker Street, a love story began.

Customer turned wife Sheila Minkel Barrila soon became a restaurant regular of the opera-singing-chef, for the food, for the singing, and for the man who did both. As NOI was closing one night numbers were exchanged and a new recipe for success began.

Together, the Barrilas celebrated Manna’s one year anniversary with the passing of the holiday season in 2016. Yet, this couple is no stranger to the restaurant industry. In 2009 the two started a catering company, Insatiable Eats.

As snow began to fall one Saturday evening, coating the East End in a winter wonderland, I arrived at Manna with my equally culinary adventurous friend, Warren. Sheila warmly greeted us and sat us at one of the ten tables in a comfortable room that holds forty seats.

Moments later, Marco delivered the first taste of the night, an amuse bouche of chickpea panella, both crisp yet soft in its base, with sheep ricotta, an arugula puree that introduces a garlic flavoring, and black olive on top.

Already set on the table were Grissini breadsticks, a personal reminder of the classic Italian restaurants I’d enjoy as a child as I’d pretend to be Holly Golightly holding, then biting, my oversized cigarette holder.

A tasting plate came out next, served by 24-year-old Emily who started during the holiday season, and bussed by her brother, 17-year-old Jay. Usually, when trying a new restaurant I try not to fill myself with bread in preparation for the flood of original tastes to follow, but the spread in front of my eyes begged a bite. A sundried tomato spread, sheep ricotta (a nice flow from our first dish), and Sicilian olives with a house made olive focaccia.

As zealous eaters, Warren and I decided to split three appetizers to start. The grilled octopus with olive chimichurri may shock those who are apprehensive about eating food that looks like, well, what it is, as the dish is served with two full bodied octopuses. That shouldn’t deter a customer from trying it, as it has an ever so subtle spice and lemon taste, being slightly charred and not remotely chewy.

The beef tartare is served with egg yolk, onions, pickles, and bursting capers with small crostinis. The combination of ingredients is matched in a way that each flavor is fully present. Last in our appetizer trial was the roasted eggplant timbal filled with sheep ricotta (a recurring taste), mozzarella, and fresh basil pomodoro.

Despite the generous sizes of each dish, to our surprise we still had room for more. Sheila, in preparation for our main courses, poured a Sicilian red wine, Tascanta Ghiaia Nera Nerello Macallese. The choice paired perfectly with the endless flavors bustling around on my palate.

While sipping our wines, Warren and I were able to enjoy the atmosphere. It’s a refreshing change to have moments of pure relaxation between courses, time to observe and carry conversation. The anchor patterned carpet, the locally painted seascapes on the walls, and the warm fireplace, all staged a tribute setting to The Hamptons.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Renato Corosone, and Domenico Modugno played like an old-school Italian playlist. I was taken back to personal memories of Sundays in an American-Italian household, singing songs I didn’t understand and 3 PM dinners of my grandparents endless preparations.

What started as an intimate dining experience to ourselves transpired into a busy restaurant. Despite it being full there was no sense of overcrowding, no sense of being rushed. One thing that was mutually agreed upon was the freshness of each meal, leaving no desire for added salt or pepper, and the olive oil having smooth and nuanced flavoring.

Marco came out from the kitchen to check in on us.

“Marco, your ingredients!” I exclaimed, “They’re so fresh!”

“You taste the product,” he reacted. “If you use cheap paint, you cannot paint!”

“But the olive oil,” Warren inquired, “what kind is that?”

“If I tell you e’rrybody gonna use it,” Marco winked as he kissed his fingertips and then tossed them to the sky. I may have been in Water Mill but in that moment I was certainly in a Sicilian home.

My special of the day, pan roasted American rack of lamb arrived in a borolo wine reduction, truffled mushroom ragu, with a side of crispy parmesan polenta. In every bite a hint of rosemary. I ate the entire thing.

Warren’s meal, a braised short rib pappardelle with handmade pasta, made on premises, and vegetables. Soon after, his plate was empty as well.

Glancing over at each other, our eyes intuitively begged the question — to dessert or not to dessert?

Inevitably, two Sicilian treats came out. Trapanese, a crispy pastry similar to a calzone filled with sheep ricotta and wild berry sauce, and cassatella, a pistachio sponge cake with ricotta and marzipan. Without hesitation, I proclaimed the cassatella was my favorite dessert in recent memory, and I have eaten my fair share.

With a menu that changes nightly based on how Marco is feeling, customers can always call ahead and request any international dish they’d like and the chef will prepare it “no restrictions.” Year round plates are lobster or seafood risotto, lobster FraDiavolo and truffled veal chop.

If the food is indicative of Manna Restaurant’s longevity, I expect years of success. Run by love and filled with families, it is a welcomed addition to the culinary scene on the East End.