Imagine having the means and opportunity to fulfill your wildest entrepreneurial dreams. Perry Vidalakis is doing just that in Pasadena this summer as he unveils Trattoria Neapolis, a spectacular restaurant experience that in terms of presentation and quality aims to rival the best of New York and L.A.
In Perryâ€™s words, Trattoria Neapolis will combine the â€œrustic and the modern, and the best of both Italy and Californiaâ€. The restaurant, located at 336 South Lake Avenue, opened July 10 and I was lucky enough to preview the restaurant at a special dinner prior to its opening.
According to Perry, the spirit of the restaurant is â€œrespectful of Italian tradition with a willingness to experimentâ€ along with a â€œstrong belief that a dining experience is only as good as the drink that goes with it.â€
Prior to this project, Perry worked in the worlds of movies and real estate, but was looking for a â€œnew phaseâ€ in his career.
Interestingly, he sees a connection between the film industry and the restaurant business. Itâ€™s all about vision.
â€œI see the restaurant business â€“ you know, thereâ€™s an aspect of orchestrating this experience for someone the way you do when creating a film,â€ he says, â€œpulling together a group of people for this kind of high-risk venture. In fact, I know someone who calls himself the restaurant producer, so I think thereâ€™s an analogy there.â€
Just what piqued his interest in the restaurant business?
â€œI was looking toward my next career, or the next phase of my career, I should say,â€ Perry explains. â€œI really wanted to do something in food and to me if I do something I want to really prepare for it and understand it, and also kind of go to the source, if you will. So, to me, for food and cooking, a source for it is France and I also did some training in Italy, in southern Italy, which is part of the basis for this restaurant.â€
As someone who has traveled and worked in both the US and Europe, what was the attraction in bringing such an ambitious project to Pasadena?
â€œIâ€™ve been here for around eleven years,â€ he says. â€œAnd before that, when I was working in the film industry and going to grad school, I lived in Santa Monica, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Brentwood, Westwood, kind of by UCLA, you know, out of all these placesâ€¦ It was a place that I loved and I think what happened was I had friends who lived here and I would always visit them and think â€˜this is such an amazing placeâ€™. When I really want to settle down some place, this is where I want to be, and here I am.â€
â€œI mean, to me I always had this concept of kind of bringing with your home, your community, your work together. I have other friends who are own restaurants in Pasadena and you see that these are real community-gathering places and they get to know a lot of different people in the community through going to the restaurant.â€
For Perry, the Trattoria Neapolis aims to be as much an experience as a place to eat out.
â€œIt has kind of an old world European feelâ€¦there is just beautiful imported terraÂ cottaÂ tile, there is a lot of marble, just tiny marble, beautiful dark wood, there is beautiful plaster with plaster molding, and also open kitchensâ€¦ The wood-burning oven we brought in from Naples; the floor had to be specialy reinforced just to support it.â€
And why go Italian?
Perry smiles. â€œI think in a way it started because I have an uncle whoâ€™s Italian-American, and he was an amazing cook and outdoorsman. So you would go to his house and you would have like this moose sausage he had made from a moose, you know, he had hunted himself.
â€œTo me, if you boiled it in one sentence, it’s the best of Italy and California brought together. That’s how I view this restaurant.â€
But youâ€™ve had Italian before right?
â€œIt is interesting to get into since there’s a range of what you could call Italian food in America,â€ Perry explains. â€œWhat’s interesting is there’s such a meeting of the minds between myself and the chef, and on the kind of food, I think itâ€™s very unique and I donâ€™t think there’s another kind of restaurant that does the exact same kind of Italian food. Itâ€™s the idea of having something rustic but sophisticated â€“ bringing them together â€“ and the food really does that. â€œ â€œIt’s a full menu, so it’s antipasti, pasta, salads, soup, main courses, pizzas, side dishes, we have great side dishes. But thereâ€™s always some unexpected element in it. Like there’s this beet salad, but it has this house made goat’s milk ricotta. We make the ricotta in house. And it’s just this really tangy, wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness of the beets.
There’s some treviso in it, which gives it a teeny bit of bitterness, and there’s salba which gives it a little bit of sweetness, and it’s just this amazing dish.â€
â€œThe thing which you see in the restaurant- first of all, weâ€™re making things from scratch, we make its pasta from scratch, other things weâ€™re sourcing from great artisanal producers, making bread, making a lot of things in-houseâ€¦ even small things, like pickles and mustard, things that maybe people might buy.â€
Masterminding the menu at Trattoria Neapolis is renowned chef Bryant Wigger. â€œWe have an amazing chef who we spent a long, long time looking for,â€ says Perry. â€œI mean, we looked in San Francisco, in New York, in Los Angelesâ€¦. He’s an amazing chef and I’m really excited that…he’s done some great things for example in restaurants in San Diego. He’s been mentored by some great people but he’s not as well known in the LA area and so it’s kind of exciting to bring him in.â€
I was lucky to spend an amazing evening with Perry and Chef Bryant for a five course tasting dinner that combined the elements so unique to Trattoria Neapolis. Not only was there an assortment of wines paired with its dinner but also beer and cocktails. Each course was paired with its own special beverage.
To begin with we were greeted with what I thought was a glass of champagne. But no this was ale that had been finished in the Methode Champenoise. Started in Belgium the Deus Brut des Flandres was then shipped to France for an extra-special finish. A beer drinker I am not, but I have to say this was a delicious departure from traditional champagne and beer, it was light, crisp with just a touch of malt. Paired with Arancini (fried risotto ball) filled with lobster and cheese and finished with pickled fennel and Eureka lemon aioli I knew the evening was going to be a winner.
A bevy of green drinks were carried to its table as we awaited its Barbabietole (beet) salad. The drinks, a concoction created by the Godfather of cocktails Vincenzo Marianella, were an herby blend of lemon, cucumber and celery juices blended with gin and Prosecco. They really weren’t something I would normally gravitate to, (Iâ€™m more of juice gal) but with the slightly bitter, charred, sweet salad they were fab.
â€œIts maestro of cocktails was just nominated for American Bartender of the Year,â€ he adds. â€œI mean in America, not just California. I think he was called the godfather of the cocktails in Los Angeles. Just like cooks want to work with great chefs, bartenders want to work with these great masters of the modern cocktail movement,â€ remarked Perry on his cocktail program.
The Polipo (octopus) salad was accompanied by a tangy cocktail of ruby red grapefruit juice, tequila, aperol and Prosecco. The salad, a medley of wood grilled baby octopus, crispy potato torta, olives and sweet tomato oil had a whole range of flavors from smoky to salty and sweet to caramel.
Roast Garlic Gnocchi was adorned with luscious smoked pork shoulder, artichoke and asparagus and served with Blonde ale from Brouwerij West in Los Angeles. This Gnocchi was an anomaly as far as Iâ€™m concerned because my experience with Gnocchi is that it is mushy and doughy. Chef Bryantâ€™s Gnocchi is light, with a firm bite and a sweet explosion of roasted garlic at its core. Paired with the rich smoky taste of the pork shoulder and the musky vegetables it was a stand-out.
Vegetable lasagna adorned the next plate, but wait this is not your ordinary lasagna. Pasta was minimal, wood grilled summer vegetables stood on their own with creamy ricotta and mascarpone cheese. No massive amounts of sauce were used to drown the ingredients just a simple topping of sundried tomato pesto. The dish was wonderful in its simplicity with bright, fresh flavors. However the beer with this course ranks on my list of must-have again.
An Italian import, Nora from Birreria Le Baladin was a true stand-out. Beer chick Christina Perozzi, explained that this beer was based on an old Egyptian recipe using Kamut grain, ginger and myrrh. The beer had a honey colored slightly cloudy look and it smelled of honey and spice. The first sip was a revelation, sweet honey, spicy ginger, and tartness combined to make this a brew I will seek out in the future.
â€œIts beer maestro was called by Los Angeles Magazine the best beer person in L.A. She co-wrote what I think is the best primer on beer; you know a big interactive book on beer that was called â€˜The Naked Pint.â€™ So, to me, it’s amazing. And we have fourteen beers on tap,â€ commented Perry.
Delicious fresh black cod was pan roasted and plated with charred corn, manila clams and salsa maro (fava beans and anchovies). Fresh and moist the fish melded with the sweet corn and the salty clams. Served with this dish was a non-oaky California Chardonnay. How refreshing. Wine Sommelier Diego Meraviglia chose the Copain Chardonnay from the Anderson Valley for its nice crisp acidity.
â€œWith the wine program, to me we really want to make it accessible and approachable,â€ Perry explains. â€œAnd so with each of these programs– wine, beer, cocktails and coffee– there is a main list and there is a reserve list. So the main list of wine, it’s no more than fifty bottlesâ€”because if there’s, like, a million bottles it just gets confusingâ€”no more than fifty dollars a bottle and twenty by the glass. So it’s very affordable.â€
Wagyu flatiron steak was wood grilled and served with crispy onions, salsa verde and the most awesome porcini BBQ sauce. This was a seriously good sauce with the musky taste of mushrooms mellowed with sweet/tangy balsamic vinegar: a great departure from the ordinary and mundane. Accompanied by side dishes of roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary and garlic and crispy artichokes with caper berries, mint and ricotta salata, this dish went down easy with a glass of big bold Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore from Buglioni Il Bugiardo in Italy.
Dessert was a delightfully light Panna Cotta made from Greek Yoghurt with apricot granite and basil gelatini. It was served with ten year old Marsala from De Bartoli, Sicilia which paired well with the creamy dessert.
And sparing no detail we finished the evening with a cup of French Press coffee from Sumptown Coffee Roasters.
â€œFor the coffee, I thought that I could learn from the best and what I would do was sample the local coffees in different regional coffee companies and to me the best one hands down is Stumptown in Portland and they have very few restaurants in L.A. Not many carry them but they are about come to Los Angeles,â€ said Perry.
With so much to look forward to, Pasadena residents can expect Trattoria Neapolis to be a welcome â€“ and unique â€“ addition to the local dining scene.
â€œI run into people I know all the time on South Lake and that’s why, to me it’s so important to protect it,â€ says Perry. â€œBecause, right now like I said there’s a certain amount of vacancy, and there’s some concern about you know, who’s going to fill that vacancy. I hope we’re doing its part for that because South Lake is just like the most special street in Pasadena to me. It has such a unique, local feel – I think, kind of like the village square or something where people go to dinner every day, shopping, and they meet each other. And I just so much want to preserve that and expand on it.â€
Trattoria Neapolis is located at 336 S. Lake Avenue, Pasadena. For reservations or more information call (626) 792-3000 or visit www.trattorianeapolis.com.