Welcome back to “Dine by Design,” an Untapped Cities column about the intersection of food and design, written by Lauren Bloomberg, food blogger for Zagat, Grubstreet and the Village Voice Fork in the Road.
The Meatpacking District, NYC location of Serafina (an Italian mini-chain with crispy crusted pizzas) is not Michela Martello’s first Serafina project. The artist has painted mural-style decor onto multiple locations including 77th Street and Long Island’s East Hampton outpost, but the style at this open, airy location is a little different from the rest. It’s inspired by street art.
A first for Ms. Martello, who usually finds inspiration in artists Giacometti and DaVinci and fuses it with New York sensibilities, the graffiti aspect is something she’d been exploring before taking on the hip arm of the Serafina family. When the owners of the Serafina Group tasked her with this latest project, she realized that this fun, funky take was the way to go and she set out to bridge the themes in the other restaurants with this modern take.
Not only are the walls here adorned with giant sign language messages (the hands are the artist’s husband’s) but so are the stairwells, the mirrors, even behind the bar. Everywhere you look there are hidden messages and tags.
One of the artist’s favorite elements (pictured above) combines a bountiful food theme. It’s a gorgeous, large, piece on the second floor of the multi-leveled restaurant that brings the whole thing back to the food. It is most reminiscent of the paintings at the other Serafina locations.
Though Michela Martello’s work can be found throughout the Serafina world, it’s not her only gig. She’s represented by Chelsea’s Tria Gallery, though it’s probably less expensive to enjoy it over a truffle strewn pizza.
Get in touch with the author @lrbloomberg.
When East Village hot-spot Empellon Cocina opened in February of this year, it was literally a labor of love. While some restaurants use a design group to build their space – especially when they’re also running a first wildly successful operation – Empellon’s Alex Stupak, Lauren Resler, and their two partners decided to go the personal route. Putting their hard work and personal inspiration into the project. The result: an ogle-worthy dining experience that puts the design in the details from the space behind the bar to the bathroom and in every well-thought-out corner nook.
But this wasn’t just slap-dash and thrown together. The theme of Empellon Cocina runs parallel to that of Empellon Taqueria, the West Village location. Both locations have Sylvia Ji paintings, as well as mini-shrines donated by Pastry Chef-Owner Lauren Resler’s family. Both have beautiful hand painted murals. The differences? While the West Fourth location boasts white walls and red accents, the newer First Avenue spot is done in moody black and blue. Very chic indeed.
“You’ve gotta have a gimmick.” A schlock line that’s as true in show business as it is in the restaurant business. From fast food up to haute cuisine, a well-thought out restaurant–one with a cohesive theme, complementary food, sycophantic music, etc.–is a talked about restaurant.
It’s a concept that goes back years. Joe Baum, a restaurateur most commonly known for restaurants like the Rainbow Room, the Four Seasons, and the former Windows on the World was notably design-minded. One of the first to create a high-end theme restaurant, Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Baum changed the landscape of dining and paved the way for the current food-as-entertainment movement. Decorated with mosaics that wouldn’t look out of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, “Forum” boasted a costume clad waitstaff hawking cheekily named dishes like Mushrooms of the Sincere Claudius–An Emperor’s Delight.
Today, it’s not all smoke and mirrors and high-flying trapeze artists, but most food establishments have embraced some aspect of design as a way to set the stage for their dishes. Whether it’s setting the scene at a Mexican cantina with a few Day of the Dead style decorations and a slew of votives, arranging pin lighting to highlight just the center of each table, or hiring one of the half-dozen restaurant design focused groups to build out the chef/owner’s vision, design and food now go hand-in-hand. And with New Yorkers choosing dining out over a night out dancing and foodies taking to the streets, throwing around terms like sous vide and crÃ¨me anglaise, taking butchering classes and spending weekends waiting for a table at the latest no-reservations brunch boite, it’s really time we explore this niche.
So we will! Join me as we contemplate the construction and creativity of some chefs, meet the designers, and track trends from plates to plantscapes in this new Untapped Cities column.