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pasta dish at Lanni's Cucina Verace
Photos by Runyon Productions

Lanni’s Cucina Verace Crafts Tempting Italian Food in Sparkill

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At this high-end trattoria, the deliciousness is in the details.

Even in high school, people wanted Vittorio Lanni’s food. “We didn’t get peanut butter and jelly for lunch, my mother packed us veal cutlet Milanese,” says the chef, whose family moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, from Naples, Italy, when he was five. “All my friends wanted to eat my lunch.”

And now, as the owner of a year-old restaurant located in what’s becoming Sparkill’s culinary corner, diners are clamoring for his authentic Italian dishes that put a premium on ingredients. “There are 20 regions in Italy, and each one has a different style of cooking, which is tied to the terroir, the weather, the soil, and what the animals eat,” says Lanni, who imports 95 percent of his products from his homeland. “So, I make sure the proper items come from the proper region. You can buy Parmesan from all over Italy, but if it’s not from Parma, it’s just not going to be as good.”

To that end, the pepperoncini that gives his fra diavolo sauce just the right amount of heat comes from Calabria; the caciocavallo in his popular beef carpaccio appetizer is made in Naples; and the sheep’s milk ricotta that makes “cannoli taste the way it should” hails from Sicily. (Every Wednesday, he sends his son, Vittorio Jr., also a chef, to Newark Airport to pick up the goods.)

seafood dish

Photo by Runyon Productions

Lanni learned the basics from his mother—who made everything from sausage to grappa from scratch—and after college, he got a job as a chef at the exclusive Columbus Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit in New York City that celebrates Italian-American achievement. “That’s where I really learned a lot and got to work with different Italian products,” he says. From there, he moved to North Palm Beach, Florida, where he opened his first restaurant, Lanni’s, at the age of 27. His unique menu offerings, like octopus and tripe, became a huge hit with the tony crowd (he once catered a party for Celine Dion). He opened two more bistros, before moving back to the Northeast, where he switched gears and began working for a wine distributor. (At his current restaurant, the wine list is all Italian, with nearly 150 varietals.)

But the itch to get back into the kitchen never really went away, so when he and his wife, Kimberly, came upon a space for rent in Sparkill, they jumped on it—and made it a family business. With 40 seats inside, Lanni’s is a cozy, romantic experience complete with low lighting that casts a moody glow off the dark floral papered walls, the perfect environment for enjoying one of their delicious—and strong—cocktails.

Kimberly, whose background is in the beverage industry, created the cocktail menu, and Vittorio Jr. cooks alongside his father, learning his painstaking craft. “I’m teaching him more mentally than physically how to cook,” says the elder Lanni, whose staff prepares each pasta dish to order and still employs old school techniques like marinating venison in red wine and juniper berries for maximum flavor. “It’s about maintaining consistency. Every dish must be the same, whether it’s the first dish of the night or the last. You can’t get lazy or careless because you’re tired.”

Spaghetti alle vongole with baby clams, EVOO, parsley, and pepperoncini.

Spaghetti alle vongole with baby clams, EVOO, parsley, and pepperoncini. Photo by Runyon Productions.

The foie gras, lobster and scallop appetizer, handmade squid ink pasta with colossal crab meat, and tiramisu (they only make 15 a night) are just a few standout examples of the staff’s attention to detail.

And that desire for perfection has made Lanni’s one of the hottest reservations in town since it opened last May. “This is how I like to eat when I go to a restaurant and I want people to have the opportunity to experience higher end items,” says Lanni, who shuns restaurant reservation apps in favor of speaking to customers personally when they call for a table. “We are a personal touch restaurant. We make people feel like they’re at home.”

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!