On a rainy Wednesday in late April, though The Dory was technically closed, Andrea Cinus Napolitano could be seen bustling all over the place, giving orders to the staff to clean this, remove that, paint this.
Meanwhile, two food purveyors from up Island sat waiting patiently at a table near the bar until Mr. Napolitano could find a minute to sit down with them.
“I need the cold cuts and cheeses, but Italian,” he stressed, when he finally directed his attention their way. “I don’t want the deli stuff — I want really good quality, like Prosciutto di Parma.”
That’s what 30 years of cooking — and consulting — for Italian restaurants all over the world will do to you.
“… Japan, China, Australia, France, Casablanca,” said Mr. Napolitano, ticking off just some of the places he’s traveled for work. “I feed a lot of people and open a lot of restaurants.”
And Mr. Napolitano himself?
“Pure Roman … with one percent Sardinian,” he said.
It would appear that a new sheriff, or at least a new chef, has come to town and is settling in for the summer. But if it seems odd that a full-blooded Roman chef with a world of experience (and a smidgen of Sardinian) would find his way to Shelter Island in general and The Dory in particular, Mr. Napolitano will tell you that it’s no accident.
In fact, he discovered this slice of island paradise a little over a year ago when he was hired by Brad Kitkowski, owner of Isola, as a consultant and sous chef to get the restaurant’s kitchen up and running.
“I come here, I have a beer on my hour break, and I meet Jack,” said Mr. Napolitano referring to The Dory’s owner, Jack Kiffer. “He knows what I did, and said, ‘If you want to come here next year, you can if you don’t have anything going on.’”
At the age of 54 and fresh from a restaurant gig in New Zealand, staying put for a few months this summer sounded like a fine idea to Mr. Napolitano.
“I kind of want to settle down. I like this, but I don’t want to do it forever,” he said. “I love the water, take a swim, take a shower and come back to work, I like to do that.”
And while he’s committed to being here this summer, don’t expect Mr. Napolitano’s gig at The Dory to stretch into the colder months.
“I have a major job in the fall,” he said. “But I think this place has potential. It’s a dive bar, but that’s cool. You’re just steps from the water and you have the room on the pond in the back.”
When asked to expound on his culinary background, Mr. Napolitano, who says he is the illegitimate nephew of Italy’s former president Giorgio Napolitano, starts off by describing his mother as “not maternal.” Which is why he began cooking on his own at the age of 13 and soon discovered his life’s passion.
“At 14, I realized I liked cooking and thought maybe I’ll take it seriously,” said Mr. Napolitano who before stepping into the kitchen was required to step into compulsory service in the Italian army.
“I was in Beirut. I got a souvenir in Lebanon,” he said, offering an apparent euphemism for taking a bullet in battle. “After the army, I was modeling for a bit … but I followed my heart and started cooking again.”
Culinary school in Rome followed and for Mr. Napolitano, it’s been a wild, world-wide kitchen adventure ever since, ending, for the moment anyway, at The Dory. While late April and the first few weeks of May were about cleaning every surface and organizing every space in the restaurant, with Memorial Day now firmly on the horizon, Mr. Napolitano’s attention has turned entirely toward the food.
The chef’s philosophy is to keep the menu small, with simple dishes made with high quality, fresh ingredients focused on what’s in season. For appetizers, expect to find beef carpaccio, a high quality meat and cheese platter, and something he calls “Pisa” — which is not a typo for “pizza.”
“It’s Pisa, the town like the leaning tower,” he said, describing the dish of fresh burrata that is wrapped in prosciutto and served standing up — like the tower.
Entrées under consideration include Parisian chicken, grilled New York steak and southern Spanish lamb chop with a pistachio mustard crust served with roasted seasonal vegetables. For pastas, expect spaghetti Al Pachino (cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil), orechiette Tram Tram (sautéed broccoli rabe and clams in white wine sauce) and risotto alle capesante con piselli — seared sea scallops with green peas in Italian Arborio rice.
While the menu remains flexible, the firm goal, notes Mr. Napolitano, is to keep prices reasonable with lunches around $22 maximum and dinner entrées ranging from $20 to $30 or so. But what ultimately ends up being served will depend not only on what Mr. Napolitano thinks Island diners might enjoy, but more importantly, what high quality ingredients are available.
“The challenge is, if I’m going to make pasta Amatriciana, I’m not going to do it if I can’t get real guanciale, otherwise what’s the point?” he said. “A lot of people aren’t educated in food. But that’s O.K., they’re getting better.”
“If they don’t have guanciale, I’m flexible and can change,” he added. “My point is, if I’m going to do something, I’ll do it right. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. People in life look at the shoemaker and say it’s a beautiful shoe. But the painter puts the heart on it and makes people happy.
“I like to give back. This is my thing in food, my way to give it to the next person and make you happy, so you spread the word.”
So now you’ve heard the word … venture forth to The Dory and be happy.