By Louise McCready
The duo Joe Campanale and Gabe Thompson opened their second restaurant, L'Artusi, in December after the success of their intimate and initial West Village venture, Dell'Anima. This week, The New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, gave the new 110-seat, bustling, small plates spot one star. Campanale and Thompson sit down to discuss how they keep diners coming in a recession and what they plan next.
What have you learned from your first restaurant, Dell'Anima?
JC: It was the first time either of us opened up a restaurant, so we winged a lot of it. The support of great people the second time taught me to have more confidence in other people, let them do things, and try to not be on top of everything.
GT: Here I have a better support system in the kitchen then I did for Dell'Anima so it was less stressful.
This restaurant was named after Pellegrino Artusi, whose cookbook has been compared to the Joy of Cooking for late 19th century housewives in Italy. Have you used any of the recipes?
JC: What we liked about the story of Pellegrnio Artusi was the way he wrote the book - everyone should cook and enjoy food. He gave people the confidence to cook. We have that same welcoming approach to food. Also, Artusi wrote in the 1800s yet he's still relevant and cherished today so we liked that enduring quality.
You opened this restaurant as the economy started to decline. How has that affected your business? Have you adapted any ingredients or dishes to make things more value-friendly for customers?
GT: Even before the economy got shitty, [chef de cuisine] Chris Frazier and I wanted the menu to have more items that are smaller portions so you can charge a good price. At Dell'Anima the menu is set up entree style, so it's hard. When you dealing with a hanger steak, you have to give a big portion because that's just the way it is. Here you can give a smaller portions, charge less, and the customers still feels like they're getting enough food for what they're being charged for. We're not making sacrifices on our ingredients. Someone can scoff at a $14 tuna dish on the crudo side, but it's still tuna and costs money. Sorry the economy sucks, but there's still a fisherman out there catching that fish.
JC: We've been really lucky. We're one of the few restaurants that's still busy, and we've been getting busier. A good part of it is that there's something for everyone on the menu that Gabe and Chris created. You can sit here and have a great satisfying meal and not spend a lot of money, or you can do a lot of courses and go all out.
What is your favorite dish is on the menu?
JC: My ideal meal: tuna crudo with beets and licorice - which the first time I heard I thought, 'No way,' but it's so good.
GB: It's Chris Fraizer's dish. Chris is much more esoteric in his cuisine than I am. I'm the sage brown butter gnocchi and he's the hamachi with fennel and the tuna. You think, 'That sounds weird,' and then you taste it and you're like, 'Wow, that's really good'.
After the tuna...
JC: I love the pizzoccheri, which is this thick buckwheat noodle baked with fontina cheese and brussels sprouts, and then black bean tongue bruschetta.
What other restaurants do you like to go to? What other chefs do you admire?
GT: I just had an amazing meal at Ssam Bar. I love Franny's in Brooklyn. That food is really inspiring because it's simple, but it's also complex - they put little layers of different things into their food where I would leave out a couple ingredients, and what they put into it takes it to a different level. I love Fatty Crab, Il Buco, Casa Mono, and Blue Ribbon.
Any plans for a third restaurant?
GT: We're going to open a chain of burger restaurants in the southeast. Barbeque places. No. But if you asked me the same thing a month before they told me they were opening this place us, I would have said no.
JC: This is keeping us pretty busy now.
Location: 228 W 10th Street between Bleecker and Hudson Streets in the West Village
Hours: Sun-Thu, 5:30-11pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30pm-midnight
Reservations: Call 212-255-5757 or try OpenTable.
Get more information about L'Artusi on Savory Cities.
Photo: Jaime Tiampo