There were no tables being flipped by Teresa, no fights between Juicy Joe and Joe Gorga and no goblets of wine being consumed by Jacqueline. But, there was a little taste of the "Real Housewives" in a Rutherford restaurant last week and surprisingly, things were pretty tame.
Albie and Chris Manzo, sons of matriarch Caroline who have grown up in one of North Jersey's cornerstone banquet halls, Paterson's The Brownstone, sat down last week with Paisano's owner Daniel Muscio and his son Justin to talk food, the restaurant biz and family tradition during filming of their soon to be released Web series, "Dining Out with the Manzos." The Web series is the creation of "New Jersey Dining Out" magazine owner Robyn Levy, who sits in on the meals.
The trailer for the show features the Manzo brothers and Levy noshing at some of North Jersey's elite eateries including Flirt Sushi Lounge in Allendale, Bibi'z in Westwood and Massina Trattoria Italiana in Weehawken with the restaurateurs of each. It's like a fun dinner party where the topic of conversation revolves around the food on the table, the origin and staff of the various restaurants, and the Manzos field questions of their own about their past growing up in the kitchens of The Brownstone.
"What happened is I developed a relationship with the 'Housewives' through the magazine and we built a great rapport," said Levy. "I had a party at the Brick House [in Wyckoff] and we were hanging out. We filmed the whole party and the film guy said you should interview the chefs."
A project was born and through her developing friendship with the Manzo sons, Levy proposed the idea to them. They hopped on board and have been taking a culinary tour of North Jersey restaurants, each with a different flair and 11 in total in anticipation of the Web series kicking off next month.
"They bring a lot to the table because of The Brownstone, but also, separately, their mother cooking in the kitchen—the Sunday dinners," said Levy. "Everything was around being in the kitchen. The dynamic of the show isn't just having dinner with chefs/owners, but learning about who they are and their history in the culinary world, the ambience of the restaurant and the cuisine."
Muscio said he was called about a month ago inquiring if Paisano's would be willing to take part. "The whole Rutherford area I wanted to get into," said Levy. "Paisano's has family values and a history behind it."
The history runs deep for Muscio, whose family hails from Calabria, Italy, and who has been involved in the restaurant business since growing up in Argentina. He came to the U.S. in 1982 and in 1989, he took over the small, but now expanded restaurant known as Paisano's. His sons Justin, 25, and Julian, 23, run the business with him. He said that was the most significant icebreaker when the Manzo sons sat down for an early dinner to tape the show.
"We talked a lot about the similarities we have with them," said Muscio. "We found a connection. They are about the same age as my sons. They have a connection in how they grew up. We started talking about Sunday dinners."
The restaurant was told to not provide a menu, but roll out the dishes they felt best exemplified the restaurant. While the executive chefs will usually join in on the taping, Paisano's Julio Monterrosa decided to stay in the kitchen.
"He was nervous at first, but then said I think I will be most useful in the kitchen cooking," said Muscio. "They were praising him."
The appetizers chosen were the restaurant's fried ginger calamari, which is topped with fresh tomato and ginger sauce, and the Cajun calamari cooked with a sweet balsamic reduction. Next came out two variations of the homemade stuffed ravioli, one filled with braised short ribs and the other with a mixture of pears and Danish blue cheese. Braised short ribs with homemade gnocchi followed and then a 32-ounce ribeye with a sweet and sour rub followed. The meal ended with crème brulee and tiramisu.
Levy said she was impressed by the wide array of fresh made pastas, but was more surprised by the steak. "I wasn't expecting that from an Italian restaurant. I would expect it from a steakhouse. It was probably the best steak I ever had," she said.
While Muscio said the publicity from the Web show and the presence of a couple celebrities gracing the restaurant will definitely help business, he's more excited about what it can do for Rutherford as a whole.
"I think it will do good things for the area, good things for the Avenue. That's what we want to happen," said Muscio, who lives in town.
Levy said episodes are currently being edited and should begin airing online within a month on a weekly basis. To learn more about "Dining Out with the Manzos", visit www.facebook.com/DiningOutWithTheManzos.