Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The mission behind Gabriel Thompson and Joe Campanale's new venture, L'Apicio, is refreshingly simple: continue to cook the same playful Italian food that's won such praise at Dell'Anima and L'Artusi, but in a larger space and with an eye towards new growth. "There are items on the menus at those places that we can never change," Thompson remarked. Here they can "do some new ingredient takes on what we've done in the past."
But that means evolution, not repetition. Chef Kaytlin Brakefield, who will be heading the kitchen for the restaurant's 180 seats, takes many of her cues from Thompson ("he basically taught me how to cook") but gets to play on her own terms. The two developed the menu together—they also finish each others' sentences—and they let spontaneity take them where it may.
Take, for instance, the fancy pepperoni that adorns both the Charred Octopus ($18) and Linguini with clams ($19); "you can't get more Italian than pepperoni!" Thompson says with a snicker. Slavish regional Italian cooking this is not. The thought process, according to Brakefield: "Hey, you [Thompson] love pepperoni. I love pepperoni. Let's have pepperoni!"
Also decidedly not Italian, but a new leap forward: a wholly vegan menu to come soon. "We didn't want to force any of our other dishes to be vegan," Brakefield explains. "So why not have a whole special menu that we can plan out from the start," Thompson joins in. Brakefield: "There are people coming in looking for more than a salad and a plate of fruit." (I mean it about finishing each others' sentences.)
What else can you find on the menu here? A Watercress Salad with roasted carrots with cumin yogurt ($13), Quail a la Plancha with butternut squash purée and pumpkin seeds ($16), and Tagliatelle bound in a sauce of salumi odds and ends ($17). "We take our ideas from Italian flavors, but we aren't tied down to them," says Thompson. "If you took the pasta off our menu, people could consider this an American restaurant and say, 'wow, this dish tastes pretty Italian.'" Well, maybe not the gnocchi. According to Brakefield, "it totally tastes like chicken pot pie."
The desserts, crafted by Sarah Ewald (who also does the desserts at dell'Anima and L'Artusi), lean Italian with the same accessible-but-interesting slant. There is tiramisu, and a warm dark chocolate tart, but also a vegan banana-chocolate cake with a dairy-free banana ice cream, tarted up by white cranberry and lime juice and served with a chocolate olive oil sauce on the side.
Beverage director Joe Campanale gave us the scoop on the cocktail program in our Drinks first look, and talked with us some more about the wine program. There's as much American wine on the list as Italian: "there are a lot more American wines now that are food-friendly, lower in alcohol and with more acidity."
L'Apicio has only been open a week, but it's already taking off in the neighborhood, with eager crowds and a special event dinner already in progress. I asked Thompson and Brakefield how the opening has been going; they smiled like conspiratorial siblings on Christmas Eve.
Take a look at some of the dishes you'll find at L'Apicio in the slideshow.