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A meal and a view: Mediterraneo opens in Norwalk’s Hotel Zero Degrees

NORWALK – The chance to open a restaurant with views of a picturesque waterfall along the Norwalk River, be located on busy road and work with developer Randy Salvatore was too big an opportunity to pass up for long-time restaurateur Ramze Zakka.

Mediterraneo of Norwalk, located at the new Hotel Zero Degrees at 353 Main Ave., opened for dinner this week and will open for lunch next week. It will also start a Sunday brunch on Sunday, May 12.

It is Zakka’s first new restaurant since opening Aurora in Rye, N.Y., in 2003. He also owns Mediterraneo and Terra in Greenwich, as well as Sole in New Canaan and Aqua in Westport. Mediterraneo in Norwalk is his first restaurant to be located in a hotel. Mediterraneo also has exclusive catering rights to events held at the hotel’s 120-seat ballroom. It will also supply drinks and food to Skytop 353, a rooftop lounging and recreation area.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a joint venture with Randy Salvatore,” Zakka said. “This location offers a great opportunity. There aren’t other restaurants like this around here. We are well positioned here.”

Patrons will dine to the sounds and sights of a waterfall that flows from the Norwalk River on the west side of Main Avenue. The large glass windows slide open for an even more authentic waterfront dining experience. A teak and holly floor adds to the nautical feel of the restaurant.

“There’s a trend today with smaller hotels that a restaurant serves as an anchor and creates vitality on the ground floor,” Zakka said. “Hotel restaurants had a stigma before, but I don’t think that’s what we have here.”

Mia Schipani, vice president of business development for the hotel, added: “Customers aren’t getting hotel food. They are getting exquisite cuisine that’s healthy and tailored to the individual.”

Hotel Zero Degrees opened last month and is billed as an urban-chic boutique hotel.

Mediterraneo, with chef Albert DeAngelis, offers a menu that includes several fish options, wood-roasted Amish chicken, Certified Angus beef and a variety of pasta dishes. It also has specialty pizzas cooked in a wood stove.

“Pasta and pizza is on the menu but there are healthy items with a lot of fish options,” DeAngelis said. “Seventy percent of the menu is protein-based. We’re not big on starches any more. We have strong flavors, such as olive oil and spices – very little butter and creams. It appeals to everyone because there are a lot of options.”

The fish options include yellow fin tuna, red snapper, West Coast halibut and salmon from Hidden Fjord. Because of substantiability questions, DeAngelis does not offer Chilean sea bass. Soft shell crabs, oysters and scallops are other seafood options.

“We try to be as sustainable and responsible as possible,” he said. “We also have a smaller menu and turn over product quickly. I don’t know how some place have such a large menu and keep the food fresh. Our food is delivered six days a week.”

Mediterraneo features a state-of-the-art kitchen that is visible to the public behind floor-to-ceiling windows. DeAngelis said the open kitchen concept keeps staff “on their toes” and allows them to “put on a show.”

With a menu that features pizza as well as fish and meat entrees, Zakka said Mediterraneo is a place where families can come and people can come back to frequently. There is no dress code at Mediterraneo.

“It’s healthy food at a great value,” he said. “It’s all about great food. People are cognizant of value these days.”

Zakka worked as a diplomat in New York City in the 1970 and ’80s. He moved to Greenwich and opened Terra in 1991.

“The whole idea was to get out of the international arena and into a mom-and-pop type atmosphere – small town USA,” Zakka said. “There was a time to be in New York and a time to move. So we opened Terra in Greenwich.”

DeAngelis joined Zakka a year and a half later and currently serves as executive chef at all six restaurants of Z Hospitality Group.

“It’s about running things efficiently and not compromising on quality,” Zakka said. “That hasn’t changed in 20 years.”

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