He came up with Palio, named for the Sienese equestrian contest, with a ground-floor bar, a mural by Sandro Chia and dining rooms designed by Massimo Vignelli. Mr. May got it up and running but was involved in its management for less than a year. (It closed in 2002.)
Mr. May moved on in 1988 to open his elegant flagship restaurant, San Domenico, on Central Park South, a sibling to the Michelin-starred restaurant of the same name in Imola, Italy. He even brought its 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 had sent to work in Italy.
Six weeks after it opened, the restaurant received three stars from Bryan Miller in The New York Times. (Mr. May lived in an apartment in the building that housed it.)
Some of San Domenico’s signature dishes, like warm shrimp with white beans and a raviolo filled with egg, continue to appear on Italian menus. Mr. Bartolotta was the executive chef until 1991, in the midst of building an illustrious career. “Without Tony I’d have been a pizza cook in Milwaukee,” he said in a phone interview. “I have an unending level of gratitude for him.”
San Domenico’s clientele included celebrities like Luciano Pavarotti. Among the restaurant’s other chefs were Andrew Carmellini, Scott Conant and, from Brescia, Italy, Odette Fada, who held the executive chef position starting in 1996, the rare female chef in a top-flight New York kitchen. She was the chef until San Domenico closed in 2008, unable to renew its lease. “Tony May always pushed me forward,” she said by phone.
Then, with his daughter and Ms. Fada, Mr. May reconfigured the restaurant further downtown as SD26, on East 26th Street on Madison Square Park. (It was sold in 2015 and replaced by another restaurant.) He also owned Gemelli and PastaBreak, both of which were destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks. At his death, Mr. May and Ms. Metalli were working on a new restaurant project in Midtown, which remains on track to open next year.