Call it a farewell to the flesh.
Two fun-fueled weeks of music, dancing, debauchery, and general gastronomic excess, Carnevale — which has been celebrated in Italy since ancient times — is the perfect way for the faithful to gear up for the rigors of Lent, and share in the spoils of the family pig before a long, 40-day fast.
Can’t afford a trip to Italy? Modern day celebrants — and those just looking for a good excuse to eat copious amounts of animal product — have been flocking to Tommaso Restaurant in Bath Beach for years.
“This is my 40th run-around,” said chef/owner Tommaso Verdillo, who dutifully greets each season by dusting off his Pagliacci costume, decking out the dining room with vividly colored balloons and traditional masks, and heading to the kitchen to prepare fantastic, pork-tastic feasts.
“Carnevale is so wonderful, because it’s a moment of true gaiety in the harshness of winter,” he added. “That’s what keeps people coming back year after year, along with the food, the tradition, and the authenticity of it all.”
Translation — go hungry, go with friends, and don’t go looking for vegetables.
The formidable prixe-fixe includes a waistband-busting spread of 15 family-style appetizers, an individual pasta/soup course, a protein, and a dessert; most dishes prominently feature the Other White Meat.
Think tender-skin braised with cabbage, pork-stuffed rice balls, porchetta sandwiches, protein-packed lasagna, veal rolled with pancetta and a heady minestra soup with noodles and broad beans, redolent of long-simmered bones.
Even dessert is a carnivore’s delight — a creamy chocolate pudding called sanguinaccio, which comes thickened with blood — (beef, not pork). Just like old times!
The star of the banquet, however, is a whole roasted suckling pig, smiling toothily from its perch of oranges and lettuce.
The little porker shares center stage with Verdillo himself, a Juilliard-trained opera singer who regales guests with arias between courses. A little “Finiculi, Finicula” with your antipasti, anyone?
“What gets me excited is that I can keep a tradition, which in turn, gets people in contact with their roots; their raison d’etre,” Verdillo said.
“This is my raison d’etre,” he added. “I don’t want to just sell veal cutlet parmesan and fettuccine alfredo —not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done something; am continuing something. This celebration is important to people, and that means more to me than anything else.”
Carnevale at Tommaso’s Restaurant [1464 86th St. between 14th Avenue and Bay Seventh Street in Bath Beach, (718) 236-9883]. Reservations from 5 pm–10 pm through February 21st, $40 a person on weekdays, $45 on Friday and Sunday, and $50 on Saturday and Tuesday.