She is one of Staten Island’s best-known chefs. He is one of the Island’s most sought after caterers. Together, they opened this new restaurant that promises to be an Island favorite for years to come.
John Noto, owner of V & J Soriano’s Pork Store, and Kim Leo, former owner of Dock’s Clam Bar on the South Shore, have joined forces to create Noto’s Casa Cucina – a restaurant that will combine the fun of a clam bar with the warmth and traditional flavors of an old-school Italian restaurant.
“I always wanted to go into the restaurant business,” said Noto, who has operated Soriano’s for the past 12 years. “I always felt like I could put my own style on it. I always try things that other people won’t try.’’
He cites Soriano’s wildly popular Sunday Meatball Mania when he and his crew fry up 2,000 meatballs every week. “They come from all over,’’ he said. “They go nuts.’’
We are located right next door to Soriano’s on Greaves Lane. The décor will make customers feel “like they’re walking into someone’s house. It’s a clam bar with wood and metal meets cozy Italian kitchen, very warm and inviting,” says Kim Leo.
For Leo, clam bars are in her blood. Her parents opened Lenny’s Clam Bar of Staten Island back in the late 1970s. Leo worked there as a child and later took over Dock’s Clam Bar on the South Shore, which she operated for 14 years until closing the restaurant about a year ago.
“I’ve had clam bar in my blood since I’m 6 years old,’’ she said. “So I’m taking the whole clam bar concept and bringing it to Noto Casa Cucina.’’
Leo and Noto met at her former restaurant where they tussled over whose meatballs were better.
“Meatballs are very personal,” according to Kim Leo. “Personally, I think my meatballs are the best.’’
When Dock’s closed, many of Leo’s loyal customers wanted her to cater their holiday affairs so she enlisted Noto’s help.
“We developed a really nice working relationship and became close friends,” says Kim Leo.
When the space next to Soriano’s opened up, Noto immediately approached Leo with the idea of opening a restaurant together. Her answer was an enthusiastic yes.
“I can’t wait for this place to open,” Leo said. “Because I can’t wait to get back in the restaurant groove.’’
The clam bar features a bounty of seafood – both raw and cooked — including clams, shrimp, oysters and calamari. Leo’s traditional, old-school sauce will compliment many of her perennial crowd pleasers, including her famous chicken parmesan.
Also on the menu will be shrimp oregano, Zuppa di Pesce, zucchini pasta (zoodles), stuffed artichoke, an eggplant stack, brick oven pizza, fresh mozzarella and, of course, homemade meatballs and Soriano’s handmade sausages.
And don’t forget the Italian nachos — fried bread chips topped with Leo’s famous meatballs, ricotta, shaved parmesan, cherry peppers, fresh sausage, plum tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.