By STACIE FANELLI
Victor Rallo stands on a chair dangerously close to a table stocked with dozens of fragile wine bottles. He’s changing a lightbulb while employees circle him laughing.
“He’s definitely a jack of all trades,” says his cousin, Bryant Rallo, general manager of Basil T’s Brewery and Italian Grill on Riverside Avenue in Red Bank.
“Yeah, and parle Italiano perfecto,” Victor Rallo jokes.
The owner of Basil T’s and Undici Taverna Rustica in Rumson, Rallo travels to Italy up to eight times a year, surfs in Puerto Rico, skis in the west, enjoys what he calls “absent-minded photography,” and now, has written his first book.
“Napoleon Wasn’t Exiled” is a journal of wine and food tasting done in Italy by Rallo, a self-trained wine expert and certified sommelier. He also took all the photographs.
“I decided to write a book because I teach a lot of classes and speak to a lot of people, and they say, ‘Can I come with you? Where should I go? What should I do in Italy?’ And it’s often difficult to put it in words after the fact,” said Rallo.
The book is written in layman’s terms for the sake of de-sophisticating wine and making it something everyone can enjoy, he says. It’s also a tribute to Rallo’s ancestral home; as the title makes clear, Rallo believes that Napoleon Bonaparte had it made when he was forced to spend some time chilling on the Tuscan island.
“Supposedly, Napoleon was exiled to Isola d’Elba,” he said. “It’s a hoax. Napoleon wasn’t exiled on Elba. It’s too beautiful. He had a palace, he lived on the beach.”
Rallo, a 48-year-old Fair Haven resident, signed copies of his book for customers at Basil T’s last Thursday evening. This Thursday, he’s scheduled to hold another signing at Dearborn Market in Holmdel.
“When it hits best seller on the New York Times, we might have to pencil a few more in,” said Preston Porter, Rallo’s social media chef, who maintains hundreds of vlogs on YouTube in which Rallo teaches viewers to make most of the recipes made at his restaurants.
“He’ll tell you that you could make it at home, but we can probably make it a little better and you’ll be back for it,” Porter said.
Rallo, a self-proclaimed “wine boss,” credits his Italian roots for the existence of his restaurants.
“About 10 years ago, we switched all of our wines to only Italian wine because I’m Italian and I just think it’s an unbelievable country,” Rallo said. “What I do every day is true to Italy, the heritage and the culture. That mobster, Jersey Shore thing is absolutely for TV.”
Basil T’s is currently in its 25th year, Undici’s in its fifth and the Rallo Wines website in its second. Rallo was also an original owner of Zebu Forno, which opened near the Red Bank train station before his partner, present owner Andrew Gennusa, suggested a move downtown.
Rallo has left his mark on today’s Zebu via a mural by Gregg Hinlicky that he commissioned. Other pieces of art by Hinlicky are all over the walls of both of Rallo’s restaurants.
Rallo’s travels are reflected in Basil T’s menu, according to Ronald Emmons, who said he has been dining there for “17 years and four months.
“There’s a freedom to this bar because Victor and his brother [Bobby] have a handle on culinary adventures that’s unmatched,” Emmons said.
When he’s not on one of those adventures, Rallo spends time with his wife, three children and three dogs. The newest addition to the family is a white Labrador puppy. Name? ‘Vino.’