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BY JANEL BLADOW | Maybe the third time is a charm. At least that’s what the executive chef-owner of White & Church is hoping.
Matteo Boglione has just revised and reinvigorated his bar and restaurant menus for a new sophisticated palate designed to appeal to his Tribeca neighbors. Just last week, he brought back many of the Italian dishes he’s best known for and hired a new bar manager to whip up classic and custom-made cocktails. He’s also planning on transforming the lounge area overlooking the corner intersection to table service.
“Food is what I do,” Boglione said with pride. “Maybe I went a little far out. I had my vision and it was futuristic. I’m an avant-garde person and don’t like simple stuff. Or if I do, it’s with a twist or my own touch.”
When Boglione first opened in 2010 as Il Matto (the Madman in Italian; yes, he concedes, named after himself), the food was well received but the atmosphere wasn’t. It was hard and cold and uncomfortable.
Then Boglione revamped the corner spot into a lounge with comfortable, warm décor and an impressive bar and reopened with a new name – White & Church – last June. It was more a hip nightspot featuring bar bites and exotic cocktails with insects, worms and scorpions as potentially intriguing ingredients. While that attracted a lot of media attention, it wasn’t drawing repeat customers or a positive neighborhood response.
“I encountered a lot of problems. Many thought I was opening a bar or club with a DJ. But I wanted an elegant pre-place where you could have a wonderful cocktail and conversation,” said Boglione.
Neighborhood concerns aside, it was ultimately the wacky drinks that did him in. The Health Department just wasn’t keen on bugs in customers’ drinks, no matter how safe or well prepared they were.
So in January Boglione quietly transformed the space, menu and bar into the sophisticated and modern dining and drinking spot he longed for. He brought on board mixologist Izumi Hamagaki as bar manager to create her own style of top-shelf mixed drinks.
Hamagaki has an extensive menu of classic cocktails but will take time to talk to customers about their specific tastes. Do they like tart, sweet or clean drinks?
“I listen for buzz words,” said Hamagaki, “then often create a custom cocktail that appeals to the individual’s palate.”
Izumi started as a bartender 12 years ago in West Hollywood then was lured to New York City where she managed the bar at Fresh and studied a “new way of cocktail making based on balance and taste.”
Presentation also plays an important part in coming up with the perfect concoction. Hamagaki sees her libations as the perfect complement to Matteo’s menu.
“I like to think of my drinks and his food as a complete thought, a nice sensibility with a perfection about it. Matteo is so inventive in the way he presents Italian food. I want this to be an experience,” said Hamagaki.
Half-Italian and half-American, Boglione grew up in Italy then moved to Boston at 19 and spent the next few years working in restaurants there, back in Italy, Japan and Los Angeles. He even did a two-year stint as chef for racecar drivers. As chef at the Village’s Gradisca on 13th Street, he transformed the trattoria into an elegant Italian eatery earning five points from Zagat’s.
Boglione pays the same attention to detail and fresh ingredients in his new menu.
Appetizers are as exotic as stuffed green olives with pork, veal and pistachio mortadella and artichoke croquettes with saffron sauce, burrata cheese and black truffles. Entrées range from the unusual White & Church burger stuffed with mac and cheese to Lasagnetta di crespelle with beef ragu and béchamel sauce.
Adding a special kick to the sophisticated atmosphere is a big screen on the back wall where classic black and white movies are shown. On any night customers can see Bogie and Bacall in an on-screen embrace or catch a kooky moment in a Fellini film.
Additionally, the restaurant plans to host events, celebrating special occasions, great food and delicious drinks. They also will offer classes to customers. Matteo “The Madman” will oversee three-hour cooking classes of up to six students, teaching the basics of traditional and contemporary Italian cuisine. Izumi will offer a new bar program called The Art of Drinking: a cocktail experience, highlighting market-fresh ingredients and homemade elixirs.
White & Church is located at 281 Church Street. For more information call 212-226-1607 or visit www.whiteandchurch.com.