He conceived 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 but was involved in its management for less than a year. (It closed in 2002.)
mr. May moved on in 1988, opening his elegant flagship restaurant, San Domenico, in 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 de cuisine was Paul Bartolotta, a young American from Milwaukee whom Mr. May had taken under his wing and sent to Italy.
Six weeks after opening, the restaurant received three stars from Bryan Miller in DailyExpertNews. (Mr. May lived in an apartment in the building it was housed in.)
Some of San Domenico’s signature dishes, such as warm shrimp with white beans and an egg-filled raviolo, continue to appear on Italian menus. Mr Bartolotta was the head chef until 1991, in the midst of building an illustrious career. “I would have been a pizza chef in Milwaukee without Tony,” he said in a phone interview. “I have an infinite measure of gratitude for him.”
San Domenico’s clientele included celebrities such as Luciano Pavarotti. The restaurant’s other chefs included Andrew Carmellini, Scott Conant and, from Brescia, Italy, Odette Fada, who held the position of executive chef from 1996, the rare female chef in a top New York kitchen. She was the executive chef until San Domenico closed in 2008, unable to renew the lease. “Tony May has always pushed me forward,” she said on the phone.
Then, with his daughter and Mrs. Fada, Mr. May continues the restaurant downtown as SD26, on East 26th Street in Madison Square Park. (It was sold and replaced by another restaurant in 2015.) He also owned Gemelli and PastaBreak, both of which were destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks. At his death, Mr. May and Mrs. Metalli were working on a new restaurant project in Midtown, which is on track to open next year.