Surely you’ve noticed the dramatic new building towering over the waterfront in Williamsburg, the William Vale hotel, which looks like it could be home to some very stylish and gigantic intergalactic insects. And, even if you haven’t personally experienced the line to get into Westlight, the bar set on the hotel’s 22nd floor with panoramic views of lower Manhattan and outstanding cocktails, you might have heard about it. (Its line is long and ever-present.)
And, through Thanksgiving, there’s the delightful Mr. Dips food truck parked in the hotel’s 15,000-square-foot Vale Park.
Now the William Vale has another buzzworthy destination: Leuca, from Andrew Carmellini and his NoHo Hospitality Group.
It’s the first restaurant in Brooklyn for Carmellini, who told Bloomberg that he’s been looking to open there “for quite some time,” Manhattan real estate being what it is. But at Leuca, named for a town in Puglia, Carmellini is back to serving the kind of wide-ranging Italian menu that made his Locanda Verde a standing-room-only hit when it opened in 2009.
But this restaurant has a more specific focus: southern Italy. “I’ve always looked at Locanda as pan-Italian,” says Carmellini. “Here I’m going big on Abruzzo and Sicily. In-your-face flavors, lots of chili, lots of garlic. You’ll see some lamb and some goat.”
At a preview of Leuca this weekend, I got a tour from Carmellini. It starts at the hotel’s plaza; you might have to weave through the Westlight line to find the relatively unmarked door. Down a small flight of stairs is the restaurant’s bright front room, with a checked tile floor and high tables; soon Carmellini will serve breakfast and lunch. The room also features a large U-shaped bar with an Italian-accented wine list and a hefty assortment of amaros. “Americans don’t aperitif and digestif enough,” says wine director Josh Nadel. He’s focused his wine list on southern Italy, spiking it with a few bottles from central and northern Italy.
Past the bar, the main dining room seats 92 on chocolate-milk-colored leather seats. Paneled in strips of dark wood, the room also features a series of supersize square banquets that can collect at least 10 people and look like a party ready to happen. A handful of blown-up black-and-white photos of a mischievous girl are the only décor. Off to one side is the open kitchen, with colorful Deruta pitchers arrayed on hanging shelves and an Acunto Napoli wood-fired oven that’s Carmellini’s favorite new toy.
When I ask how Leuca is different from Carmellini's other restaurants, the first thing he says is “pizza.” There are just three pies on his opening menu, average price $17, including the supersonic OG, topped with pepperoni, ’nduja, mozzarella, and Fresno chili oil. It’s an in-your-face, meaty, oily pizza on a chewy, thin crust that’s been cold fermented for two days.
But the Leuca menu is much bigger than pizzas—it's divided into five savory categories and has 30 different dishes. The dips section leads with creamy sheep's milk ricotta topped with hot honey and pretty garlic pinwheels. (“It’s a little less dough to garlic than those lame garlic knots,” says Carmellini.) Among the dozen starters are wood-roasted cabbage with a Caesar-style dressing and a bowl of mussels and clams steamed in Italian beer. The broth is bitter, punctuated with chewy-sweet sun-dried Sicilian peppers.
Carmellini has also launched a serious house-made pasta program: The black spaghetti is cut by hand and tossed with a piquant puttanesca sauce with rings of tender cuttlefish. He endeavored to make his goat ravioli as goaty as possible, stuffing it with a ragù of shredded, gamy meat, accenting it with a goat butter sauce, and serving it on a bed of whipped goat cheese. It’s the priciest pasta at $22. From the wood-fired grill, he’s serving a handful of proteins like a mixed grill of lamb and red wine sausage with slices of charred, fatty lamb loin and eggplant in tomato-y pizzaiola sauce.
When he planned the private dining room, which holds about 30, Carmellini envisioned a grotto. So he and his partners commissioned a vibrant blue underwater mural from designers ASVP with a series of sardines swimming around the walls. I told the chef it reminded me of a still from Finding Nemo. “Maybe,” said Carmellini. “If Nemo was a sardine. And tasted good on pasta.”
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland