It is 3:12pm on Monday afternoon, and we are inside Bardea Food & Drink in the final moments of prep before they open the doors to the general public for the first time. (Lucky friends and family got a sneak peek over the weekend.) The heartbeat of this restaurant is racing with energy, practically exploding with pent-up excitement.
No one is more ready to open than restaurateur Scott Stein and Chef Antimo DiMeo. They’re ready to serve. We’re ready to eat. Much has already been written already about their long road to this day (including this), so we won't waste time covering the same ground. Let's get down to it: What’s on the menu?
Scott: We’re not your quintessential red sauce Italian joint where you get spaghetti and meatballs, chicken eight way, veal seven ways. And by the way, when I take my family out, that's one of our favorites. But there are so many of those restaurants. We're interpretive Italian. We try to find the balance between sophistication and approachable.
Antimo: You might be tasting ingredients or flavor profiles that are not necessarily paying homage to Italy. They might have some Asian backgrounds, some modern American background. We tried to keep a very open mind, cast a broad net.
Scott: We encourage sharing, so there's lots of fun, small plates. We have a take on calamari where we deep fry the calamari, glaze it and toss it in an agrodolce tamarind sauce. That’s been a big hit.
Antimo: With the pork belly … ponzu is not Italian. It's a citrus-infused soy sauce. The limited people who have tasted it have loved it. The tuna tataki, that’s a mix of Mediterranean and some Thai, some Asian flavors.
Scott: But then we also try to use really rustic, re-mastered dishes from Naples. We use fresh pappardelle that we make in house.
Antimo: They’re very straightforward. Our cacio e pepe is made with cheese and peppercorns and it's one of the hardest to get great, because there's not many ingredients in it. And we don't cheat it by adding butter or heavy cream. All of the dairy is just from the cheese itself. That's something I pride myself in. The classics done right.
Scott: We source a lot of ingredients from Italy.
Antimo: The dried pasta that we're sourcing is called Pasta Mancini. It comes from the Marche region in central Italy.
Scott: It's probably one of the best dried pastas in the world.
Antimo: It is truly farm-to-pasta. They have a huge farm where they grow their own wheat – heritage grains. They mill their own wheat. And with that flour that they mill, they make their pasta, dry it there, and send it out. And the pasta speaks for itself. The color is much more of a golden hue. There's the aroma. And when you chew into it, it has a certain texture and flavor that industrialized pasta just simply does not have.
Scott: We have really artisanal pizzas. We've got a raw bar. We've got snacks. We've got Italian salumi and all kinds of artisan cheeses.
Antimo: We do crispy wings. The classics done right.
Scott: Now comes the true challenge – opening a restaurant is a marathon, not a race. I know, in the beginning, from the six other times I've done it, to take it day by day. We're getting stronger every day that goes by.
Antimo: I always say, make it like you would be making it for your parents. It's important that we remind the team that we have one unified goal, that we send out the absolute best product possible.
Scott: We have an amazing opening core staff – one of my stronger opening staffs out of all six restaurants.
Antimo: I feel great. We're just at the point where we did a little bit of friends and family over the weekend and we had some great feedback. I always tell anybody that I feed, always be honest with feedback, because if I don't get honest feedback, it doesn't allow me to get better. But I feel great. Hard work pays off.