Executive chef/owner Andrea Taormina is a modern Renaissance man as a painter, sommelier, chef, interior designer, and consummate host. In partnership with his wife, Hugo & Sons’ director of operations Rebecca Tory, he recently opened two new Park Slope neighborhood spots: an Italian and French restaurant across the street from Talde and; around the corner, a Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzeria. The couple, who met while working at Pastis, most recently owned and operated Mamma Duchess catering company; they live a block from the restaurant and pizzeria with their two children.
Sicilian-born Taormina graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in Fine Arts and began his career as a painter with a loyal group of clients. His education in cooking, in contrast, was self-taught, driven by a gift for creating vibrant, striking, original food. His hands-on experience in the culinary world covers the gamut from maitre d’ at Morandi and sommelier at the Waverly Inn to executive chef at Antonioni’s.
At Hugo & Sons, his experience and talent come together into a creative expression of the history of his neighborhood, his family, and Italian and French cuisine with an emphasis on well-prepared food and thoughtfully sourced ingredients. Taormina created the menus, the interior design, the wine and cocktails lists, and trained a customer-service focused staff.
Taormina designed the restaurant’s interior to have a modern farmhouse feeling combined with an industrial chic aesthetic. The space is comfortable and spacious, with plush red booths, zinc-topped tables, and big open windows. Set in a landmark building that was formerly home to a 1940’s neighborhood butcher shop and later a mysterious secret artist’s studio, Taormina and Tory opted to honor the history of the space, keeping many of the original details such as exposed brick and tile work, carriage house doors, and the original storefront signage.
One of Leo Bates’ (the former owner) lithographs hangs in the dining room. Other colleagues’ paintings decorate the walls of both the restaurant and pizzeria.
The design provides the perfect backdrop for Taormina’s cooking: His food is straightforward: highlighting the freshness of the ingredients, but always with a touch of something different that transforms it, often with a personal story behind it.
Starters include Sicilian meatballs made with grass-fed beef, pistachios, raisins, Pecorino, and white wine and crisped artichokes with lemon, parsley, and housemade aioli. Salads are prepared with a continuously changing selection of seasonal greens from Lancaster County. The Nicoise salad is prepared with pan-seared tuna, haricot vert, tomatoes, and house-made potato chips. Weekly specials highlight what’s fresh in the market. Recently, it was fresh Burrata with sliced apples, and lemon.
Signature pastas include the 19th-century inspired Maccheroni Dome—a shaped pasta casserole filled with meatballs, creamy tomato sauce, and ham, and hand-made Pappardelle with locally sourced Italian sausage and caramelized fennel. For the Chitarra Pesto, toothsome pasta is coated in a bright basil sauce and plated over al dente haricot vert, topped with crispy matchstick fries. This interpretation was inspired by a cousin who, even at the age of 40, refused to eat unless his mother garnished his plate with French fries.
Mains include Seared Cod with potatoes, peas, artichokes, and pistou sauce; and Taormina’s interpretation of classics such as Pork Braciole, filled with bread crumbs, pine nuts, raisins, parsley, Parmesan, and hard-cooked eggs; and Steak Frites, grass-fed steak of the day, rosemary potatoes, béarnaise sauce. and watercress.
Sweets are also more than they appear: Zuppa Inglese is classic Italian dessert, but served in a pudding pot. Sponge cake is surrounded by zabaglione cream and shaved bittersweet chocolate. The gluten-free Flourless Chocolate Pistachio Cake substitutes pistachio flour for an improved texture and flavor, enhanced by orange marscapone cream.
Taormina also acts as sommelier, choosing a wide selection of wines from France, Italy, the U.S., and Canary Islands. Wines are all-natural and minimally processed with low-sulfite content, which has the added advantage of allowing us to taste the earth and the complexities of the wine. Examples include Vino di Anna Nerello Mascalese from Sicily (2013), a rosé with volcanic smokiness; Pruneto Sangiovese, Chianti Classico from Tuscany (2009) or Jigsaw Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley (2013). It’s easy to try a variety of wines with moderately priced glasses, quartinos or bottle.
The bar staff encourage clients to try original formulas vermouths and apertifs such as Cappelletti (the precursor to Campari), which is lower in sugar and has complex flavors; and craft spirits such Old Tom Gin. Refreshing summer cocktails that pair well with food include Capizza (named for Taormina’s great-uncle who had a cucumber garden) vodka, cucumber, and lime with soda and Averna Smash, built with gin, Averna, and fresh ginger.