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Inside Il Totano, Harold Dieterle’s NYC Comeback Restaurant

The first-ever winner of Top Chef, who went on to launch three acclaimed NYC restaurants, returns to the scene with a coastal Southern Italian newcomer, Il Totano.

Spaghetti and agnolotti

Agnolotti (left) and spaghetti dishes at Il Totano. Photo: Alex Staniloff

When Harold Dieterle opened a new Southern Italian restaurant, Il Totano, in Manhattan’s West Village last week, much of the media attention centered on his past as the first-ever winner of Top Chef. He did indeed rise to fame on the Bravo series, back in 2006, but his three New York City restaurants—Perilla, Kin Shop, and The Marrow—made him an important figure in Manhattan’s dining scene.

Since the three closed in 2014-2015, Dieterle has largely stayed out of the public eye, occasionally appearing on Bravo specials and often seen reeling in big fish on Instagram, on the waters of his native Long Island. Il Totano marks not just his return, but his first purely Italian-focused restaurant (The Marrow had showcased his German-Italian ancestry, drawing from the two culinary cultures.)

Roasted fish
Roasted San Pietro Fish at Il Totano. Photo: Alex Staniloff

The 85-seat Il Totano returns Dieterle to the West Village/downtown restaurant scene a decade after he left. Besides a menu focused on coastal Southern Italian and Sicilian-influenced dishes, with a few detours north (a Milanese-style pork cutlet), the restaurant presents itself as a stylish getaway for diners with creative cooking and culinary practices. There’s an emphasis on dry-aged seafood, such as grilled dry-aged branzino; Dieterle says that the method, best known to deepen the flavor of steak, has a similar effect on fish, while prolonging shelf-life and resulting in crispier skins. 

Seafood shows up in the pasta as well, in a spaghetti with Dungeness crab sauce topped with toasted chili breadcrumbs that Dieterle says is an homage to his grandfather, who taught him how to set crab traps as a child. There’s also a bucatini con sarde with wild fennel, toasted pine nuts and golden raisins, a beloved Sicilian preparation. 

pork cutlet
Crispy Pork Chop Cotolette at Il Totano. Photo: Alex Staniloff

As for the décor, designer Sasha Bikoff takes influence from Wes Anderson’s colorful film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as well as from the Amalfi Coast and cult Italian fashion designer Marni. The cocktail program, with an emphasis on coastal Italian flavors, features playfully named drinks such as Rainbow Brite, which co-owner Alexandra Shapiro named after 1980s cartoon characters and shows. 

Interior of Il Totano
Inside Harold Dieterle's new NYC Italian restaurant, Il Totano. Photo: Alex Staniloff

Il Totano looks to restore Dieterle’s promise as a chef-operator that particularly shone through at Kin Shop, which was known for a tasty menu of Thai dishes served in a quietly upscale setting. At its prime, the restaurant achieved the rare feat of being a hotspot with inventive yet accessible food, but which also felt like a favorite neighborhood hangout. If Il Totano can do the same, while offering diners cleverly composed and on-trend, seafood-focused Italian, Dieterle should become this year’s Comeback Player of the Year—adding another trophy to the shelf. 

Open for dinner Sunday-Thursday, 5 pm-10 pm and Friday-Saturday, 5 pm-11 pm, 154 W. 13th St., NYC, 212-229-0222, @iltotanonyc,

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