Italian cuisine

Tony May, 84, restaurateur who championed Italian cuisine, dies

He imagined Palio, named after the Sienese equestrian competition, with a bar on the ground floor, a mural by Sandro Chia and dining rooms designed by Massimo Vignelli. Mr. May set it up and was involved in its management for less than a year. (It closed in 2002.)

Mr. May moved in 1988 to open his elegant flagship restaurant, San Domenico, on Central Park South, a sibling of the Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Imola, Italy. He even brought his chef, Valentino Mercatilii, to New York to oversee the menu. His chef was Paul Bartolotta, a young American from Milwaukee whom Mr. May had taken under his wing and sent to work in Italy.

Six weeks after opening, the restaurant received three stars from Bryan Miller in The New York Times. (Mr. May lived in an apartment in the building that housed him.)

Some of San Domenico’s signature dishes, like hot prawns with white beans and an egg-filled raviolo, continue to appear on Italian menus. Mr. Bartolotta was the Executive Chef until 1991, when he had an illustrious career. “If it weren’t for Tony, I would have been a pizza cook in Milwaukee,” he said in a phone interview. “I have an endless level of gratitude for him.”

San Domenico’s clientele included celebrities like Luciano Pavarotti. Other chefs at the restaurant included Andrew Carmellini, Scott Conant and, from Brescia, Italy, Odette Fada, who served as executive chef from 1996, the rare female chef in a high-flying New York kitchen. She was the chef until San Domenico closed in 2008, unable to renew her lease. “Tony May always pushed me forward,” she said over the phone.

Then, along with his daughter and Ms. Fada, Mr. May reconfigured the restaurant more downtown as SD26, on East 26th Street at Madison Square Park. (It was sold in 2015 and replaced by another restaurant.) It also owned Gemelli and PastaBreak, both of which were destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks. When he died, Mr. May and Ms. Metalli were working on a new restaurant project in Midtown, which is due to open next year.