Tavolàta's house-made extruded pasta

Fearing a backlash from conflict of interest, I've been pretty hush hush about Chef's work up until now. But the premise behind blogging is personal, and this is my experience. I'm incredibly proud to be in Chef's camp...so all PR allegiances aside...here goes....

About a month ago, Chef opened his second restaurant...an Italian joint called Tavolàta. My job was easy. No official statements, no hype. When they were finally ready, he simply opened the doors. Within days Tavolàta was experiencing 2 hour waits and cranking out pasta for over 100 covers a night.

So what's the story?

After working late nights in the restaurant biz, and having few places to go after work, two longtime friends came together and created their kind of restaurant. Young, hip, and urban...the goal was to create a place their friends would enjoy.

The basic criteria would not be compromised...it had to be a casual environment, open late (so cooks could drop by after work), and the food had to be great. No question.

So, over late night drinks, the concept for Tavolàta was born.

The food

Chef is known for working with the finest ingredients available and Tavolàta is no exception. All the pasta is made fresh in house. A grinder is being custom built and eventually, they plan to even grind their own wheat!

For extruded (shaped) pasta, the machines were delivered earlier this summer. While the guys worked on dough recipes, friends of the house were sent home with copious bags of fresh pasta.

Meanwhile, I tried to get up to speed on Italian cuisine. Chef has 20 different dies (shapes) he can use for extruded pasta, and depending on how long pieces are, warrants yet another name in Italian. Mama mia!

How far does Chef go for fresh ingredients? Buffalo milk is imported from Italy to make the house-made mozzarella. They're currently sampling a variety of wheat crops to find the perfect source. And I was deliriously happy to learn some of the salumi comes from the master, Paul Bertolli of Fra Mani in San Francisco.

Testing recipes for pasta dough

The space

Tavolàta means "table" and it refers to the 30' long communal table running through the center of the restaurant. (Chat it up with your neighbor...or not.) The table is made out of a single piece of fallen tree, hewn by Tavolàta's co-owner, Patric Gabre-Kidan. It's huge! And it was amazing to see him work on this piece from the beginning.

Speaking of the beginning....the restaurant space has served many businesses in its lifetime, but most recently, it was a furniture store. My first look at the space...I could hardly envision the place it is today. We went after work and with no power...used illumination from cell phones to take a tour!

Work horses, saw dust and cold beers.

It was a night I'll never forget.

Back where the bathrooms are now...that was live-in quarters for the former owner...and included a shower! Where the kitchen is? A washer and drier were in the corner. Stairs leading up to the loft were uneven and rotted...and came from an entirely different direction. Downstairs, the glow from cell phones spotlighted critter remains...and another washer and drier. It's now a top of the line prep kitchen. Portions of the floors are original and the rest is a mix of reclaimed wood that Patric sourced. And an office used to be above the bar...now gutted to highlight the lofted ceilings.

Media comes calling.

We were contacted by the Food Network in Canada for a feature on the show "Opening Soon." (In America, the show runs on the Fine Living channel.) The application process was long and required a video interview with both Ethan and Patric.

Opening Soon jumped on the project...but in the wonderful world of media, it was nixed when the restaurant project was delayed. They have their deadlines...and ours fell short. Unfortunately, that's the way it works sometimes.

Opening a restaurant is not easy.

Permit delays, change of contractors, cement strikes, shortages of this or that...and the frustration of dealing with things entirely out of your control....

For the accomplishments you see on the surface, and the grief overcome behind the scenes, I'm proud of these two guys. At long last...they have built exactly the kind of restaurant where I want to be.

(On a side note...I'm quite excited to see the first reviews out this week.)