Marco Polo Ristorante in Carroll Gardens
kicked off a two-week celebration of its 20th anniversary with
a lavish, six-course dinner Monday honoring the last descendant
of Marco Polo, Siro Polo Padolecchia of Monte Carlo, Monaco.
The restaurant’s owner, Joe Chirico [pronounced KEE-ri-ko], had wanted to do something special for the anniversary, so he and his "PR man," Joseph Carella, began their search for a relative of the famed adventurer who traveled from Venice to China in the 13th century.
"I never thought I would find him," Chirico told GO Brooklyn. "I sent him a letter, and he said he would be very honored to attend."
Padolecchia, who says he is the 34th generation of the Polo family and the last living relative, is a native of Venice and the president of the European Institute for Futures Studies in Monte Carlo.
He brought a decidedly romantic tone to the celebration, regaling the crowd of 150 diners with stories about Marco Polo, including his love affair with a young Chinese woman, who, much to Padolecchia’s chagrin, is often omitted from the history books. He said he was currently recruiting political and financial aid to find the grave of this woman in China. He also presented Chirico with a medal, making him an honorary president of his Marco Polo Society.
Among the guests at the dinner, which was held in the stained glass-ceilinged banquet room, were former Borough President Howard Golden, state Sen. Carl Kruger, Borough President Marty Markowitz and Carroll Gardens activist Buddy Scotto, as well as Georgio Radicati, the consul general of Italy, and Wangxia Chen, deputy consul of China.
Waiters milled about in velvet Medieval tunics with rope belts, making sure no wine glass was empty for even a moment, and the restaurant was adorned with sculptures of boats hewn from ice and flowers.
Through June 15, the restaurant, at the corner of Union and Court streets, is offering an "authentic Venetian menu" designed by Chirico and Marco Polo’s chef of 17 years, Francesco Insingo, which pays homage to their namesake’s hometown.
"The Venetian menu was carefully researched in order to give our customers a taste of the famed city’s culinary traditions," said Chirico. "There is an emphasis on seafood, but it also includes cold and hot appetizers, soup, pasta, rice, meat and poultry."
From June 16 through June 22, Chirico will offer selections from his original 1983 menu at 1983 prices (pastas: $5.95 and entrees: $8.95-$19.95).
Chirico, a bit of an adventurer himself, arrived in the United States from Calabria in 1964. He opened Marco Polo in 1983, and in 1995, purchased and restored the landmark restaurant Gage & Tollner, on Fulton Street at Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. (He announced Monday that Gage & Tollner will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year.)
Chirico is also the founder and president of the Brooklyn Restaurant Association, and he claims to be the first restaurateur to import truffles, porcini mushrooms and New Zealand green mussels to Brooklyn.
"[Marco Polo] was too elegant for the neighborhood at that time [in 1983]," said Chirico. "But the neighborhood was coming up. It was a challenge, but I like a challenge - like Gage and Tollner. There’s a very big excitement when I challenge myself. I work harder. I want to beautify and enrich the neighborhoods."
Markowitz presented Chirico with a proclamation declaring June 10, 2003, Marco Polo’s 20th Anniversary Day.
"He wants to help all Brooklyn restaurants," said Markowitz. "Under your watch, Joe, Brooklyn has become Smith Street, and Court Street, and 86th Street and Third Avenue. You set the standard. You set the bar. No one loves this borough as thoroughly as you, Joe."
Chirico is often credited for having opened a white tablecloth restaurant rather than the stereotypical red-checked cloth, red sauce trattoria.
In fact, Monday’s dinner didn’t offer a single bite of pasta, which is not a Venetian dish. He did, however, offer "Rise e Bisi dei Dogi," a creamy risotto flavored with pancetta, onions, peas and Parmesan, which will be one of the anniversary dishes offered through June 15.
Reservations are required for Marco Polo’s anniversary menu; call (718) 852-5015. To view the 20th anniversary menus, log on to www.marcop