Barbetta, having celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2006, is the oldest restaurant in New York that is still owned by the family that founded it. Barbetta is also the oldest Italian restaurant in New York, and the oldest restaurant in New York’s Theatre District.
This three-fold distinction makes this historic restaurant a landmark among New York restaurants. Its landmark status has been recognized by the prestigious and highly selective Locali Storici d’Italia, which has designated Barbetta a Locale Storico (Historic Establishment), the first restaurant in America to have been so named.
Founded in 1906 by Sebastiano Maioglio, Barbetta is now owned by his daughter, Laura Maioglio.
Barbetta features the cuisine of Piemonte, Italy’s northwestern-most region, bordering on Switzerland and France. The restaurant is decorated with 18th century Piemontese antiques, most notable among these the great chandelier that hangs in the main dining room. This 18th century Piemontese chandelier was obtained by Ms. Maioglio from a palazzo in Torino (capital of Piemonte), which formerly belonged to the Savoys, Italy’s royal family. Another important piece is the harpsichord in the foyer, signed Francesco Fabbri 1631, an extremely rare instrument which the Metropolitan Museum has requested be donated to them.
In its interior design, Barbetta was the first elegant Italian restaurant created in New York (1962). This represented a radical departure from the prevailing but erroneous notion which existed at that time in America that Italian restaurants are invariably “rustic” and that Italian food must be similarly “rustic.”
Barbetta likewise transformed Italian cuisine in America. It was the first Italian restaurant to present dishes that were elegant, yet at the same time absolutely authentic and well known to Italians in Italy although unfamiliar at that time (1962) to Americans. It introduced the American public to the traditional and refined dishes of Piemonte, the region from which Barbetta’s owners originate and where they still maintain their 17th century family palazzo, in Fubine Monferrato.The great white truffle dishes of Piemonte are served on a regular basis during the truffle season, from October to Christmas. Barbetta was the first restaurant in America to offer white truffles on a continuous and regular basis during the truffle season, maintaining its own truffle hunters and truffle hounds in Piemonte, Italy. As early as 1973 Barbetta was so closely identified with white truffles, that Bloomingdale’s asked Barbetta to do a truffle exhibition, where 500 portions of Fonduta con Tartufi were served to notable guests. Barbetta also introduced other Piemontese dishes previously unknown to the American public such as Bagna Cauda, a gregarious “country” dish where the guests gather around the table to dip raw vegetables into a central simmering pot of an anchovy olive oil sauce.
More recently, the cuisine in Piemonte began an evolution towards even greater elegance and refinement together with beauty of presentation. The cuisine at Barbetta developed along similar lines. While Barbetta continued to serve Piemonte’s great traditional dishes (something often abandoned in Piemonte itself), it began to create an equal number of everchanging new dishes. These have a distinctive style of there own, true to Ms. Maioglio’s belief that any new dish should have identifiable roots, a ” pedigree” which reveals itself in the taste of the dish. The evolution of Barbetta’s cuisine from its founding in 1906 can be traced through Barbetta’s menu on which by each dish is noted the year it was first served at Barbetta. This menu has been reproduced in two recent major books dealing with culinary history.
Barbetta also accomplished for Piemontese wines what it accomplished for Piemontese cuisine, introducing the great wines of Piemonte, many unknown to Americans before that time. It is hard to believe now, with Italian wines having gained so much in prestige and popularity in recent years, that in 1962 when Ms. Maioglio took over Barbetta, only one Barolo was being imported into America and that Barbaresco and Gattinara were not imported at all. For many years, Barbetta brought in for itself alone the only Barbaresco and Gattinara to be found in this country. In the ’70s Barbetta also began to import Grignolino and Barbera from its own vineyards in Fubine Monferrato. As early as 1977 Barbetta won first prize from the Italian Government (ICE) for the most outstanding Italian wine list. In February 2004 Barbetta won from Wine Enthusiast, the Award of Ultimate Distinction and from 2005 through 2010 it’s Award of Unique Distinction. Since 1997 for thirteen consecutive years, Barbetta has won the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. From SantÃ© Magazine, Barbetta has won the New York Regional Award from 2005 through 2009. In 2007 Laura Maioglio was the first recipient of the Bevi Acqui International Prize newly created by the Enoteca of Acqui Terme.
In Wine Spectator’s April 2002 issue, Classic New York, Barbetta is the lead restaurant in the article “Where to Eat” and the only restaurant to which an entire page is devoted. In 2001 Barbetta was inducted into the Distinguished Restaurants of North America’s Hall of Fame. Barbetta has won the DiRoNA Award every year from 1997 to 2009. A list of the many other awards Barbetta has received is attached. Barbetta has also been awarded four stars by the Mobil Guide and one star by The Fodor Guide, the maximum granted to a restaurant by the latter. In 1997 Esquire magazine named Barbetta one of the top six Italian restaurants in the United States.
In 1963, Barbetta had created yet another novelty: Ms. Maioglio added a garden for open air dining, a rare thing at that time in Manhattan. She was the designer of this garden as she had been the designer a year earlier of the restaurant’s interior. The Barbetta garden, exuberantly verdant with century-old trees, and flowering with the scented blooms of magnolia, wisteria, jasmine, oleander and gardenia is one of the city’s most sought-after locations for summer dining.
In recent years, Ms. Maioglio has restored the second floor of the 1874 and 1881 townhouses in which Barbetta is located, for use as private rooms. These four townhouses were purchased by Sebastiano Maioglio from the Astor family who had built them sparing no expense and embellishing them with magnificent doors and woodwork. Their parlor floors, imposing and patrician, consist of the original dining rooms, library and drawing rooms, each room preserving its original fireplace as well as beautiful paneling and details of the period. These rooms, with a private entrance from the street, are available for private parties from 4-100 persons.
Ms. Maioglio is planning to open two more private rooms in the near future decorated with 18th and 19th century American antique furniture from her own personal collection.
The facades of all four of Barbetta’s 1874-1881 townhouses which had developed the deterioration typical of brownstone, are being restored to their original appearance. Charles Lockwood, author of Bricks and Brownstone, The New York Row House, 1783-1929, has been retained as consultant. Mr. Lockwood is recognized as the ultimate authority on the subject of New York row houses and brownstones.
Ms. Laura Maioglio was born and raised in New York. She attended the Brearley School and graduated from Bryn Mawr College magna cum laude with a degree in Art History. She has returned frequently to her family house in Piemonte since her birth, spending extended periods in Europe and Italy, including a year studying at the University of Florence. Her long sojourns in Italy, particularly in Piemonte, have provided her with first-hand knowledge of Italian food and wine, especially that of her native region, Piemonte. She is married to Dr. GÃ¼nter Blobel, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Blobel is the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor at Rockefeller University where he heads the Laboratory of Cell Biology. Dr. Blobel has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, to the American Philosophical Society, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In Italy he has been elected to the Pontifical Academy and in Germany to the Leopoldina. Among Dr. Blobel’s numerous other awards are the Lasker Award, the King Faisal Award, the Horwitz Prize, the Lounsbery Award, and the Mayor’s (N.Y.) Prize for Excellence in Science.
In 2001 Dr. Blobel was honored in Germany with the Grosse Bundesverdienstkruez mit Stern and the same year was elected to the Orden Pour le Merite.
Dr. Blobel gave the entire proceeds of the almost one million dollars of his Nobel Prize to the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche and of the Synagogue in Dresden. In 1994 Dr. Blobel founded Friends of Dresden, a not-for-profit organization that raises money in America for the reconstruction of Dresden, razed to the ground in the bombing of 1945.