When Chef Giuseppe Marrone opened his restaurant on the South Street Seaport neighborhood at the cobblestone corner of Peck Slip and Water Street, he wanted his patrons to feel like they were in southern Italy. ACQUA at Peck Slip is an authentic Italian restaurant, and its roots run deep not just because of its location among moored sailing ships near the 17 Pier, but because of chef Giuseppe’s desire to share the story of Naples through every family recipe and dish.
Born and raised in Naples, growing up he was inspired to become a chef by his home, family values, and the cooking of his mother and grandmother. He learned the mastery of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine while training at the renowned Hotel Institute of Angelo Celitti in Formia, a Mediterranean coastal city between Rome and Naples. All the dishes at the restaurant are from his hometown of Naples and have a heavy coastal influence.
“[The food at ACQUA] is based on my roots always, because I think it’s more authentic when you cook the same way as your grandmother used to cook,” he tells us. In fact, you’ll find Chef Giuseppe at the local fish markets 3-4 times a week to bring in the freshest catch to serve daily to his guests. Seafood is significant to the city of Naples, where seafood from the Mediterranean Sea is considered by many, like Chef Giuseppe, to be the best in the world and he takes his fish seriously. “When we’re out then that’s it—I don’t like to put dish in the freezer because it tastes different the next day. When the portion is finished then it’s done.”
AQUA hosts a monthly dinner tour through the traditions of Naples. Learn more and RSVP»
Lobster and clam lovers, for example, can even enjoy the actual taste of the Mediterranean Sea itself—Chef imports these fresh Langoustines to give his patrons a different and truer taste of Italian seafood than is offered in the U.S. “We give our customers a little touch of the Mediterranean, offering lots of seafood as you’d get in the coastal restaurants and fish bars in Italy,” he says. Using his local suppliers in the New York City area, he shops by what’s available.
“Maybe one day it’s a nice branzino or grouper, and sometimes we fight at the fish market, so I go early to be one of the first to get the fish. If you go after 6 or 7 A.M., you’ll only get what’s left. I go at 4 A.M. in the morning to the fish market in the Bronx, sometimes once or twice a day,” he tells us. Since the restaurant does not use tjr courseness of a freezer to store left over fish, patrons can be assured that their catch is fresh and delicately refrigerated. Most people understand when he’s out of something. If you go to a restaurant that serves the same fish day in and day out, Chef’s advice is that it’s probably not fresh because it’s extremely difficult to do and acquire from the markets.
Among favorite dishes include spaghetti with clams, crab cakes—spaghetti with any seafood really, he says. Even the popular seafood tartar uses a fresh catch he gets daily. Chef tells us sometimes it’s yellow tune, sometimes salmon, and sometimes grouper, but it’s always fresh. “Yesterday, I wanted to make tuna tartar and I went to the market but didn’t like the selection, so I didn’t buy it.”
Branzino is also a popular item on the menu, but if it’s not fresh when Chef heads to pick it up he won’t serve it simply because he values his customers. “I want my customers always happy, and my point of view is I want them to always come back. I just want them to enjoy the experience and receive good service. They need to feel like they’re in Italy, and on the Mediterranean where they can trust real Italian authenticity,” he explains. Most of his customers have never been to Italy, so he feels that being particular about what he serves is just part of the responsibility of truly representing what is culturally expected in Naples.
Chef doesn’t just carefully peruse the fish market, even his produce is fresh. In fact, take a visit to ACQUA for lunch or dinner, and you’ll find much more than seafood, including Neapolitan-style pizzas, panini’s, and several pasta dishes served with chicken and beef, as well as an extensive dessert and wine list. The pasta is hand-crafted by the restaurant’s professional pasta master, Bernardo. Tagliatelle, papardelle, ravioli, gnocchi and spaghettoni are just some of the pasta shapes ACQUA makes from scratch every day.
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He heads to farmer’s markets on Long Island or in New Jersey or Connecticut because they offer smaller batches, and higher quality and taste he says. “I like to the go the product markets and touch and see what they offer, because when you order from a distributor you don’t know what they’re going to send you. The quality of the product makes a huge difference in the dish, even if you’re the best chef in the world.” A customer favorite though—tomatoes imported from Vesuvio—the Mount Vesuvius Volcano. Stop in for a meal one day and ask him about it.
It’s obvious that owning a restaurant means to Chef Giuseppe that it’s more important to be authentic—not just by offering good food, but food that tells the real story of Naples. He values talking with his guests and taking care of them, and so does his staff. “If someone remembers what I like to eat, what I drink, and all these things, that’s customary in Naples, in Italy. Our customers will come in and ask if particular servers are in because they trust them and they also know them. They feel comfortable. They feel at home.”