Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bits & Morsels interviews the brothers of 'inoteca

Truffle egg toast at ‘inoteca in Gramercy, 323 Third Avenue.

I must say I'm upbeat about the new ‘inoteca in Gramercy, located at 323 Third Avenue. The original ‘inoteca is located on the Lower East Side at 98 Rivington Street, and while I love going there, it is a bit of a trek for an Upper East Sider.

About a year ago, Bar Milano opened in the current ‘inoteca space. Bar Milano was a pricey restaurant which at the time seemed like it would do well. That was then and this is now. Anyway, brothers Jason and Joe Denton turned the space into an ‘inoteca, which opened at the end of February. Besides being a reasonably priced restaurant, ‘inoteca is open until 3:00 am. Not that I go out at 3:00 am on a regular basis, but nothing is more disturbing than being rushed out of a restaurant because they are closing up for the night. You know the feeling; they are practically grabbing your plates while you are still eating.

Joe and Jason Denton.
Arancini (fried risotto balls) with radicchio and romaine.
Inside a risotto ball.
Radicchio and romaine salad.
Mushroom and fontina cheese panini.
Truffle egg toast.
Cutting the bresaola, arugula, grana, and lemon oil panini.
Eggplant lasagna.
Inside ‘inoteca.
Chef Eric Kleinman and Sam Hamadeh (my trusty dining companion blowing out his birthday candle).
Whether you dine at ‘inoteca at 8:30pm or 2:30 am, your meal will be just as enjoyable. The menu is divided into different sections all of which are mainly small plates and crispy paninis. It’s possible to order (and hopefully share) a bit of everything without an expensive bill. Everything we sampled was exemplary, especially the truffled egg toast. You simply must order this dish. The toast is a thick cut of white bread smothered in cheese and truffles with a lightly cooked egg in the middle for the ooze effect. It’s served with grilled asparagus and is perfect for any time of day.

The atmosphere at ‘inoteca is on the loud side. It’s the kind of place where you feel comfortable dining alone at the bar or with some friends. This is an asset to the neighborhood and I definitely look forward to going back.

Jason and Joe Denton are two of the most down to earth people I have met in the restaurant business. It’s not easy opening a restaurant especially in today's environment and it is even more challenging when you have other restaurants to keep an eye on. However, they make it look easy. I caught up with them this weekend to check in.

How is this new ‘inoteca different from the downtown location?

Jason Denton:
Between the food and the beverage, we have a lot of the classic signature dishes that are still on the menu and we added a few more because we have more space. We did a few pastas on the menu. Just some real classic simple dishes like spaghetti aglio e olio and a tagliatelle with a ragu of the day, which is lamb right now. We also put another section on the menu called spiedini, which is just like Italian Skewers. We try to keep those in the same vein as ‘inoteca and the Italian style which is very simple and clean.

What advice would you give to people opening restaurants today?

Joe Denton: Be Careful and have a really good plan. Set up a plan for your food and your whole concept.

Jason Denton: I think we found ourselves going back to a humble approach of restaurants. When we opened up Bar Milano last year at this time we were going for the high end, fun and higher check-average kind of restaurant. With the timing of the restaurant and everything that was going into it, we looked back and said ... maybe we should scale this back.

I think that in these days people still want to go out but in a different venue. They want to have fun and they want to see value. If I was going to open up a restaurant now, I would be conscious of the raw space and how much you have to work with, sticking to your budget and having a strong concept.

Between the two of you and all of your restaurants, what is your routine? Where do you spent most of your time?

Joe Denton: We are both here right now since we just reopened last week and we will be here for a while. We are going to be opening up for lunch and doing deliveries and we need to be sure everything stays on target. Usually I am at the downtown ‘inoteca. That is where I spend most of my time.

Jason Denton: My days start off at ‘ino at 9 every morning. I am at ‘ino for a couple of hours everyday. Then I will swing by Lupa, and like Joe said in the beginning, we are up here a lot.

What are your favorite things on the menu?

Joe Denton: I really enjoy our new spiedinis. I think they are great and fun to share. Of course the truffled egg toast is always great.

Do you advertise?

Jason Denton: We don’t.

Joe Denton: We did a little pr for Bar Milano but we never really advertised.

Jason Denton: We kind of felt we would go back to our roots like with ‘ino. Inoteca and Lupa and just sink in. We don’t have a pr person right now. We try to have word of mouth and we have a pretty good e-mail list from people who have been coming into the restaurants for a while. Hopefully enough people will come and spread the word and we will be around for while.

As brothers what’s it like being in business together?

Joe Denton: It’s great. We get along really well.

Jason Denton: I couldn’t be happier.

Joe Denton: We have totally different styles but the end product is always the same. We want people to come in and really have a great time.

Jason Denton:
At the end of the day we want people to come back and have a good time. We flourish with smiles on people’s faces and seeing them return again. How we get to that point does differ, but that’s what we are shooting for at the end of the day.

323 Third Avenue
(212) 683-3035

Cooking magazines are changing their tune. It used to be the magazines like Gourmet would focus on dining out and cooking with expensive ingredients like caviar and truffles. Now cooking magazines are all about cooking more at home and offering recipes to utilize leftovers. [The New York Times]

The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, which is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, has been temporarily closed after a few customers reported feeling ill after eating there. After testing the entire menu, it was concluded that it was categorically not food poisoning that made anyone sick. The restaurant should be open by the end of the week. [BBC]

Dannon yogurt is going rbGH-free. In response to strong consumer demand, all of its products will no longer contain the artificial growth hormone by the end of the year. [Civil Eats]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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