James Beard Award-winning Tony Mantuano, a renowned Chicago-based chef (who you may remember from Top Chef Masters), has decided to bring a little piece of his Italian cooking expertise to the Miami with the upcoming Lorenzo. Lorenzo, opening next week at the Redbury, is Mantuano's first eatery out of Chicago and a spot the chef refers to as his "greatest hits" restaurant. The inspiration behind the spot is straightforward and promising: "it's things that we've done in our restaurants over the years that are huge hits in Chicago", says Mantuano. In the following interview Mantuano talks to Eater about why he chose Miami as his first venture out of the windy city, how Lorenzo will stand out among other Italian restaurants, sourcing locally and future plans. Here's the interview:
When will Lorenzo officially open?
Well, we're shooting for Tuesday, but we're probably …. Official, official … yeah I would say that day, but we're going to take it pretty slow until we have our legs under us.
Tell me a little bit about how Lorenzo came to be?
So, my business partner, Larry Levy, became involved in this hotel [The Redbury] seven or eight years ago and we've been rehabbing it slowly, slowly and finally we got to the point where we could move ahead and we hired a designer from Chicago, whom I've worked with before on a couple restaurants. He most recently did our restaurant, Bar Toma in Chicago and he's got a great feeling. He makes rooms feel really warm and like they've been there awhile. We're really pleased with what he's come up with; it's definitely a place where you'd want to come more than once for a special occasion. We have a great rooftop here too. It really all came about with giving an opportunity for our people to grow, that have worked with us for a while and this place is more about things that we've done for 29 years at Spiaggia. Spiaggia's a fine dining four-star restaurant, but we also have café Spiaggia next door. So, it's like great Italian pastas, great espressos, great gelato – all the benchmarks of the Italian culture and doing them the best. We make our own pasta, we have a great wood burning oven that you can see from the street actually, now that we've painted it red. So, it's really all about everything we love and that's the best of Italy.
You mentioned you have a great rooftop, what will it be used for?
We're still trying to figure that out (he laughs). It will certainly be available for private events. There's a pool up there and it will be for hotel guests. We haven't really figured out beyond that, but one of the ways we figured out to use it is to be able to grow herbs and vegetables up there. We partnered with a garden up there in Miami and they're about to plant things up there. So, herbs and things like that we're going to be able to have year-round. Fun for a guy from Chicago to have fresh herbs.
This is your first restaurant out of Chicago, what made you choose Miami for the location?
It was all about the opportunity, really. It was about my partner, Larry Levy, saying 'hey we've got the space, we think it'd be great', there's a lot of really great Italian food in South Beach and you know, we think we can hang with the best of them. And he has a home here now. He loves what we do at Spiaggia, he has a home in Chicago and when he's in Chicago he's at Café Spiaggia every day, so I think really it was about having a place to eat when he's in Miami (he laughs).
What do you think will set Lorenzo apart from those other great Italian restaurants in South Beach?
Well, I think that our consistency, our dedication to all of the great parts of Italian culture – I think we'll have the best espresso, I think our gelato will be great, all our pastas are made here in the restaurant, the pizza dough is something we take a lot of pride in –it actually rises for 48 hours before we use it, which makes it so easy to chew and digest – it's really that dedication and 29 years of studying Italian cuisine and finding the best way to do things. To me it's about our passion, how much we care about great food. I would never be involved in anything I didn't know that the food was going to be awesome. There's a lot of chefs out there who put their name on stuff and say 'okay goodbye, see you next year', but for me … I can't do it, I cant' do it. It's my love for Italy, it's like I can't do it for the country let alone my name!
Can you tell me a little about what inspired you for the menu?
I think it's things that we've done in our restaurants over the years that are huge hits in Chicago. It's almost like our 'greatest hits', we said okay here's our opportunity to put it on the road and let's take the things that are the most popular with our guests around Chicago, let's put them all on one menu and I think that was a big inspiration right there. We spent a lot of time, even before we opened, visiting local producers and bringing in farmers and making sure we used as many ingredients as we could that were local. I mean, I had no idea that – we have this gnocchi with wild boar sauce that we serve in Café Spiaggia – I had no idea there was great boar that you could buy in Florida, so now we're using awesome Florida boar in our ragu. We really want to utilize as many local things as we can.
What are some of the local farms you've been working with?
Swank Farms for greens, Paradise Farms for vegetables, Cowart Ranch for our steaks (we have a rib eye and a porterhouse), Bitter Creek Farms for our pork, we get our clams from a place called White Water, they have all different kinds of clams that we use. There's a few for you.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu?
I think one of my personal favorites and a dish that I think I'd want to have as one of my last meals would be linguini with clams. It's such an awesome dish, so simple, but you gotta do it right because there's not that many ingredients. There's also a spaghetti alla nadia that we make that was inspired by a chef that I worked with in Italy from a three-star restaurant, Al Pescatore. Her name was Nadia Santini and she taught us how to make this spaghetti, which seems like such a simple thing to do, but you cook the spaghetti for like three minutes in the water and then like four minutes in the sauce and it just sort of all comes together in this one big bowl of love. It's just like, the pasta absorbs the sauce … it's like the best spaghetti with tomato sauce you will ever eat. So, we named it after her.
What are you most excited about with your new restaurant?
I am just so excited about showing people what we do. It's not like we said, 'oh we're coming to Miami, we're going to change what we do', we're going to try to fit what we think Miamians want. We really just are doing what we do, so I can't wait to see how people respond to what we do. And I think they're going to love it, so I'm really anxious (he laughs), I want to see their faces when they try the gnocchi with boar or the spaghetti alla nadia.
Any future projects in the works?
Yeah, we have a couple of things. We're talking about a new restaurant in Chicago, next year, but the biggest thing is that next year Spiaggia turns 30 and we are doing a major refresh for the dining room and I'm really excited about that. It's all the thing we've been wanting to do for the last 29 years, we're going to do. It's going to be terrific.
· All Coverage of Tony Mantuano on Eater [EMIA]
· All Coverage of Lorenzo [EMIA]
[Photo Credit: Jeff Kauck]