Insalata Caprese

Big Paulie, dead

Tommy Bilotti

“The more we thought about it, the better it looked, Sammy said. We concluded that nine days before Christmas, around five to six oclock at night, in the middle of Manhattan, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of the crush of all them shoppers buying presents, there would be literally thousands of people on the street, hurrying this way and that. The hit would only take a few seconds, and the confusion would be in our favor. Nobody would be expecting anything like this, least of all Paul. And being able to disappear afterwards in the crowds would be in our favor. So we decide this is when and where its going to happen.

The day before the assassinations of Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti were to take place, eleven conspirators met at Gravanos office on Stillwell Avenue. According to Gravano, the four designated shooters were Vincent Artuso, John Carneglia, Eddie Lino and his brother-in-law Salvatore Scala. The designated back-up shooter, Anthony Tony Roach Rampino, would be standing across the street from Sparks Steak House, while Angelo Ruggiero, Joseph Watts and Iggy Alogna would be stationed at 46th Street and Second Avenue to facilitate the escape. Frank DeCicco would be inside the restaurant where a meeting was to take place. He would be joined there by capos James Failla and Daniel Marino, who were not part of the plot.

A December 16, 1999 article in Jerry Capecis This Week in Gang Land claims Gravano mistakenly named Alogna as a member of the hit team. Stating informed sources say Dominick Pizzonia was the other man present. There is also another version as to who was present inside Sparks Steak House. According to Remo Franceschini in his book A Matter of Honor, the retired police lieutenant claims:

On December 16 Big Paul had arranged to meet Neil Dellacroces son Buddy Dellacroce at Sparks Steak House on East 46th Street. Frank DeCicco set it up. Castellano was going to pay homage, to explain why he hadnt come to the wake and offered condolences, to make amends and praise the dead.

It wouldnt be until the afternoon of the planned murders that the actual hit team knew who their targets were. Huddled in a park on Manhattans Lower East Side, the group went over the final details of the murder plot. The four shooters were dressed alike - long light colored trench coats and black fur Russian, or Cossack, style hats. The reasoning for this was to draw attention to the outfits, not the men wearing them.

Gravano told the FBI that he and Gotti arrived near Sparks Steak House close to five oclock in a Lincoln driven by John. Famed New York Police Detective Joseph Coffey, in an interview with Court TVs Rikki Klieman years later, doubted the two were in the vicinity of the restaurant. Gravano claimed that after circling the block, they parked where from their vantage point they would have a clear view of the front of the restaurant. Moments later Bilotti in a black Lincoln pulled alongside Gottis car and waited for the light to change. Using a walkie-talkie Gravano notified the others that Castellano was proceeding through the intersection.

Bilotti steered the Lincoln into an open space in front of Sparks and got out. As Castellano alighted from the vehicle, the hit men moved in. Big Paulie was hit six times in the head and killed instantly. When the shooting began, the unarmed Bilotti stooped to look through the drivers side window only to see his bosss execution, unaware that killers were now aiming at him. As the shooters assigned to Bilotti opened fire, Artusos gun jammed. However, the gunfire from the second assassin dropped the newly crowned underboss and Carneglia, who had finished blasting away at Castellano, rounded the automobile and put the finishing touches on Bilotti.” From Underboss, by Peter Maas

Sparks is known for its steak and its fresh Insalata Caprese Salad or Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Plate. Its a simple, delicious dish and easy to make at home

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick

2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 cup fresh basil leaves

Coarse salt to taste*

Freshly-ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons drained capers (optional)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil