Sicilian Meets Art Deco

by Allison Cosby

August 13, 2012

As soon as I walk into a place, I know exactly what it's going to be," says restaurateur Giuseppe Scafidi. Respecting the architecture of the building that he's renovating is central to his design philosophy.

So when he saw the art deco touches in the structure at 2901 Park Ave., which used to house the Cucina market and catering company and, earlier, a 1950s gas station, he knew exactly what to do.

After months of major exterior and interior renovations, Deco Ristorante opened at the end of June. The new restaurant is a stylish addition to the Museum District, joining a neighborhood that includes Bandito's Burrito Lounge, Caliente and Café Diem. A modern take on a classic diner, Deco serves Italian food with a Sicilian focus.

No newcomer to the Richmond restaurant scene, Scafidi describes himself as a chameleon when it comes to design work. Throughout his career, he has used his knowledge of architecture and design to create memorable spaces to improve dining experiences, changing his designs to suit each environment and paying attention to every last detail.

Among other places, his designs can be found in the interior of Emilio's in Short Pump, where he used colorful mosaic tiles and curves to reflect Spanish culture, and in the pizza oven and lighted bar at Stuzzi.

His work with Deco is no exception. Every detail, from the window treatments to the zigzag pattern on the floor, to the tiny hooks that hold up the hanging light fixtures, has been researched and carefully chosen to create an authentic but modern style. The restaurant also features a curved bar, inspired by mid-century radio bars, where you could open the top to reveal turntables and bottles; art deco artwork on the walls and contrasting light and dark wood on the benches and tables.

Much like the design, the menu at Deco is a contemporary take on traditional cuisine, with a section of Sicilian "street food" such as meatballs with currants and pine nuts, fried rice balls and chickpea fritters.

Sicilian food is "a healthy mix of influences," says Scafidi, who is also the restaurant's head chef. Among Deco's dishes are eggplant salad; pasta with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari; and thinly cut, breaded veal with vinegar. The menu features "[family recipes] that I've been doing forever, and a few dishes that people will recognize," says Scafidi.

Deco Ristorante

2901 Park Ave., 342-4278

Hours: Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily; dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

 

Winners of 2013 Elby Awards

February 10, 2013

Nearly 400 Richmonders attended Richmond magazine's second annual Elby Awards this evening to honor excellence in the Richmond region's restaurant community. Named after the acclaimed Chef Paul Elbling of the former La Petite France, the Elby's are the only local event that recognizes and honors the work of local chefs and restaurateurs.

 

Kendra Feather was named 2013 Restaurateur of the Yea r for her leadership at her growing restaurant empire that includes Ipanema Cafe, Garnett's Cafe, andThe Roosevelt. Dale Reitzer of Acacia Mid-Town was named Chef of the Year — he also took home this honor last year. Reitzer was a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2010 and 2011.

 

Mike Yavorsky of Belmont Food Shop is this year's Rising Culinary Star. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Yavorsky has worked with Manhattan chefs such as Floyd Cardoz at Tabla, Daniel Boulud at db Bistro Moderne and Café Boulud, and Scott Bryan of Veritas. Belmont Food Shop, which opened last fall, was named a a best new restaurant of the year by reviewers at the Richmond Times Dispatch and Richmond magazine.

 

The evening's other winners include:

 

• Fine Dining Restaurant: Lemaire

 

• Upscale Casual: Stella's

 

• Neighborhood Restaurant: Kuba Kuba

 

• New Restaurant: Deco Ristorante

 

• Cocktail Program : The Roosevelt

 

• Excellence in Service: Wendy Kalif at Bistro Bobette

 

Last fall, Richmond magazine solicited this year's Elby's nominations from 30 members of Richmond's food community including bloggers, cookbook authors, restaurant reviewers and food writers. A panel of nine judges not affiliated with Richmond magazine then visited the nominated restaurants, where they rated their dining experiences.

 

For the first time the Elby's also recognized a Culinary Student of the Year from each of the area's three culinary schools. The winners, as nominated by their schools, are Dayna Goodchild at Culinard, Stephanie Louise Boehles at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and Jean Marie Kennedy at University of Richmond's Center for Culinary Arts.

 

Brandon Fox, Richmond magazine's newly appointed food editor, and Jason Tesauro, Richmond's most gregarious modern gentleman, hosted the ceremony held in the Cheek Theater at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

 

The Heart of Glass after party, which included 10 food stations, local microbrews a signature "kaleidoscope" cocktail and 12 wines was sponsored by: Performance Foodservice, Bandazian & Holden, Richmond Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, Olli Salumeria, Adams-Burch, the Country Vintner, Retail Merchants Association, Auto-Chlor, Culinard, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Taste the Local, University of Richmond, Maureen Massey & Co. LLC, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Rappahannock Oyster Co., International Gourmet Foods, RVA News, Coastal Sunbelt Produce, Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Linen Service, Steady Sounds, Virginia Artesian, Fruit 66, OpenTable.com and Virginia Grown.

 

Net ticket proceeds from the event will benefit the nonprofit Shalom Farms, Slow Food RVA, Tricycle Gardens and the VMFA Foundation.

 

New Happy Hour with Fabulous Food & Cocktails at Deco Ristorante

Deco Ristorante, the restaurant named the Best New Restaurant of the Year at the 2013 Elby's has launched some new happy hour specials in honor of its one year anniversary.

The new food, beer, wine and cocktail specials are now available, Monday - Thursday from 5 - 7 p.m.

And I'll be there on Tuesday, June 25 to help celebrate their anniversary and happy hour kick-off, so be sure to swing through and check out the "Best New Restaurant of the Year."

Oh yeah, and it's called aperitivo in Italian. So let's say that and feel fancy.

Deco Ristorante's Happy Hour Specials:

Drink Specials:

Signature Cocktails, $5

  •  italian ’75: gin, lemon juice, limoncello, prosecco
  •  classic negroni: gin or vodka, campari, sweet vermouth
  •  deco negroni: gin or vodka, aperol, sweet vermouth
  •  aperol cocktail: aperol, sugar cube, prosecco
  •  aperol spritz: aperol, prosecco, blood orange liquor

Bellini, $5

  • classic peach: peach nectar, prosecco
  •  blood orange: blood orange juice, blood orange liquor, prosecco
  •  peach apricot: peach nectar, apricot brandy, prosecco
  •  mojito bellini: light rum, lime, mint, prosecco
  •  melon: midori, vodka, pineapple juice, prosecco
  •  strawberry lemon: strawberry liquor, lemon juice, limoncello, prosecco
  • cherry vanilla: cherry/whipped cream vodka, crème di cacao, prosecco

Wine by the Glass $5

  •  chianti
  • sicilian red
  • sicilian white
  • pinot grigio
 
 

Food Review: Deco Ristorante 

Refreshing competence and heavenly cannoli in the Museum District.

BY MATTHEW FREEMAN

Richmonders love their Italian food, flocking to standard bearers Mamma ’Zu and Edo’s Squid as well as newcomers such as Sapori. Stepping into this crowded landscape is chef Giuseppe Scafidi, formerly of Stuzzi and Bella Luna, among others, who’s bringing Sicilian classics to the Devil’s Triangle in the Museum District.

Deco takes a tiny space and invites guests into an attractive, full-service, sit-down restaurant and bar. Scafidi draws inspiration from the art deco tradition to great effect. The space has a modern feeling, with well-placed ornamental accents and curves softening the boxiness of the restaurant’s rectangular footprint. The various hues of red and brown evoke the Sicilian landscape and the colors of the food. Naming the restaurant after an artistic style is a bold but appropriate choice that highlights the success of the interior space.

Of course, few of us visit a restaurant for its interior design if the food doesn’t impress. Fortunately, Deco’s food is up to the task. Scafidi and his team successfully produce Sicilian classics. Sicilian food is primarily Italian in influence, but with inspiration from Arab and other Mediterranean cultures, mirroring the history of Sicily’s people. The servers are consistently enthusiastic and helpful guides to the large menu.

Deco’s menu is divided into four sections: Sicilian street food, antipastini, primi piatti — literally, first plates and, in good Italian tradition, consisting of pastas — and secondi piatti, or second plates of fish and meat. A very satisfying meal could be made from the street food and antipasti, where I found some of my favorite dishes. The polpettine ($5) are meatballs seasoned with currants and pine nuts, which provide a sweet and nutty punch to complement and lighten the meat flavor. Also worth trying are the panelle ($4), or chickpea fritters, which are made from chickpea flour and resemble flaky, savory pastries.

My absolute favorite dish is the caponata siciliana ($7). A simple but elegant elevation of the more familiar Italian eggplant dish, Deco’s version uses capers, olives and a touch of sweet balsamic vinegar to make this street food truly memorable. Among the antipastini, the insalata finocchi ($8) stands out. It’s a light and fresh salad consisting of delicate shaved fennel, pungent olives and tangy citrus vinaigrette. Other antipasti include fried foods (eggplant parmigiana and mozzarella), seafood (mussels, clams and calamari) and various salads and cured meats.

The pastas include simple options — traditional meat sauce or marinara — and some less familiar choices, such as pasta chi sardi ($16), pasta with sardines. The noodles are imported from Sicily and more substantial than grocery store standards, while the sardines are fresh, not canned, and complemented by pine nuts, currants and a few tomatoes. The pasta carbonara ($14) is a worthy take on a familiar classic where the simplicity of quality ingredients really shines, though it could use a touch more salt. Be sure to check out the risotto of the day, which on one visit was a delicious almond pesto with shrimp. 

The secondi piatti are mostly chicken and veal options, along with a seafood soup and fish of the day. The involtini di vitello alla siciliana ($19) consists of veal pounded flat, rolled and stuffed with bread crumbs, pine nuts and currants. The only misstep of any of my visits occurred with this dish, and it was minor: One piece of veal was tough. It’s surprising not because restaurants don’t make mistakes, but because it reminds me of how few mistakes Deco’s staff is making. The consistent quality sets Deco apart from many Richmond restaurants. 

Stop eating before you’re too full for dessert (all $7). Deco’s version of tiramisu delivers with wonderful custard and the familiar flavor combinations. The cannoli, however, is truly outstanding. I haven’t had one as good outside Italy or Boston’s North End. Hints of cinnamon infuse the mascarpone cream, which is inside a perfectly baked, crunchy pastry crust. The wait staff suggests that the sorbets are good, but I can’t get away from the cannoli. 

Deco presents classic, simple flavors that aren’t flashy or trendy. They’re time-honored recipes that are well executed and make you feel as if you’ve just been transported to the Sicilian countryside. Combined with its thoughtful décor and competent staff, Deco should become a Richmond dining staple. 

Deco Ristorante
342-4278
2901 Park Ave.
Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
decoristorante.com

 

The art of Deco: Giuseppe Scafidi’s love of food, art, and Sicily

Giuseppe Scafidi loves Sicilian cuisine and Art Deco. Both are on display in his Museum District restaurant. 

MAY 7, 2013; 9:54 AM • BY NATHAN CUSHING

 

  • Who: Owner and head chef Giuseppe Scafidi
  • What: A restaurant that incorporates his love of architecture and Sicilian food
  • When: Opened June 2012
  • Where: 2901 Park Avenue
  • Why: So Safidi could be his own boss and combine his boyhood love of cooking simple Sicilian cuisine with that of his love of Art Deco.
  • Dishes: Ravioli con Porcini a cheese ravioli with porcini mushroom cream sauce ($14); Spaghetti con Vongole with clams, served red or white ($16); Pasta alla Norma with tomato sauce, fried eggplant, shaved ricotta salata ($14).

— ∮∮∮ —

Art Deco and Sicilian cuisine, two completely separate things, go together perfectly in the mind of Giuseppe Scafidi.

Last year, the native Sicilian converted a 1950s gas station a few blocks east of Devil’s Triangle into a restaurant. The building, adorned in so much Art Deco decor, can make you feel like you’re in Miami’s South Beach instead of the Museum District.

The reason? Art Deco is the chef and architecture aficionado’s favorite style. A mix of several existing styles and periods–from French designers of the 1920s, the German Bauhaus movement, and cultures from around the world– Art Deco is an amalgam of influences that have clashed into one of the most recognizable aesthetics in the world.

Scafidi’s native Sicily is also a clash of cultures–Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Greeks–that’ve all dominated the Mediterranean island and foisted their customs onto la Regione Siciliana in their respective reigns.

“They created beautiful things: architecture, food, culture,” said Scafidi with a sultry accent that’s endured since arriving in America 30 years ago. “All of this stuff was introduced to us by our dominators.”

LOVE AND THE SMELLS OF SICILY

Scafidi grew up Sicily’s capital, Palermo, with six brothers and a sister. “Always a lot of love around,” he said. That love remained, and grew, after the death of his mother when Scafidi was a boy. “My grandmother was, for me, my mentor” after his mother passed.

By 16, Scafidi–under the tutelage of his nonna–was making Sicilian staples like pasta alla norma: tomato sauce, fried eggplant, shaved ricotta salata. “I loved to cook,” Scafidi said. “I loved the smell of the flavors.”

Food vendors regularly plodded along city streets on mornings, shouting to any all and within earshot the day’s offerings: Sardine! (sardines); Pesce e lumaca! (fish and sardines), even the occasional Piovra! (octopus). “It was very theatrical,” Scafidi said. “Whatever was available, it was cheap and fresh.” Everything was used; nothing went to waste.

As Scafidi learned to cook, he also learned the origins of common Sicilian ingredients. “Every dominator that we had introduced their own food,” he said. Apricots, sugar, saffron from Arab conquerors. Maize, peppers, tomatoes from Spaniards. Meat from the Normans.

 

San Giovanni degli Eremiti

These cultures also imparted their aesthetics on the Mediterranean island, particularly the Normans and Arabs. For instance, The Cathedral of Monreale features a Norman facade, but Arabic art on its interior. Red domes crown cubic towers on churches like San Giovanni degli Eremiti, an Arabic influence that predated the geometric shapes associated with Art Deco.

Cultures, past and present, enriched Scafidi’s senses of taste, smell, and sight. “That’s why I love food and architecture,” he said.

CULTURE AND DECO

Scafidi arrived in New York City in 1982. Three years later he opened his first restaurant, Don Giovanni, on 74th and 2nd.

He moved to Charlottesville in 1993 and soon worked at Caffe Bocce. Sometime later, a New York friend and restaurateur asked him to help open Azzurro on River Road in 1995 (among the lasting marks he left on the restaurant is the sun mosaicked on the brick oven).

He later worked at Bella Luna near Brook and Parham roads, and helped build-out Stuzzi on Belmont and Main. But all of these projects involved him working with others. “I always wanted to work for myself [again],” he said. He got his chance when he took over the property at 2901 Park Avenue.

Every detail of the building–both in and out–is Art Deco to the bone: the zig-zag tile pattern on the floor; the geometric shapes of the bar made of plywood, mesh, and a special sand marble cement; wine stored on chevron racks. Scafidi even built a mirror that was inspired by an Art Deco piece he saw at the VMFA.

Scafidi uses subtlety to display his cultural affections. “I do elegant things, not the typical flag,” he said, referring in general to the kitsch sometimes seen in other Italian restaurants. On Deco’s shelves are replica carafes and vases representing Sicily’s deep and varied history. “I don’t expect the average people to understand” or to pick up on the cultural history around them at first glance. “But it doesn’t matter,” he said. The decor is for him.

Deco’s aesthetics may be for Scafidi, but the food–his first love–is for everyone. Menu item descriptions at some restaurants can be a litany of minuscule ingredients and preparation methods. Items on Deco’s menu tease the tongue with just a few words and ingredients. “It’s so refreshing with its simplicity,” Scafidi said about the menu. A simplicity that acutely mimics the geometric lines that comprise the restaurant’s decor. “[Sicilian] culture introduced this food and that’s why I bring this passion into food,” he said.

Pasta alla norma like his nonna taught. The shouts of vendors from his childhood Palermo. The Art Deco he adores. “Everything is connected,” he said.

Deco Ristorante is located at 2901 Park Avenue.

photo of San Giovanni degli Eremiti by Bernhard J. Scheuvens

Deco Ristorante hosting seven course fish, seafood, and wine dinner December 16th

The seven-course fish and seafood dinner is $129 (all-inclusive) and features two seatings.

DECEMBER 4, 2015; 11:19 AM • BY TREVOR DICKERSON

 

If a holiday feast featuring fresh fish and seafood sounds like your idea of a good time, the Feast of the Seven Fishes Wine Dinner, taking place at Deco Ristorante in the Museum District will definitely be right up your alley. The $129 all-inclusive, seven-course meal will be held Wednesday, December 16th. Two seatings are available.

From Deco Ristorante:

DO YOU LIKE SEAFOOD, GREAT WINE, AND ONE-OF-A-KIND DINING EXPERIENCES?

JOIN US FOR THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES
Wednesday, December 16th
2 Seatings: 5:30 PM & 8:30 PM

DECO RISTORANTE: award-winning Sicilian restaurant just steps from the VMFA in the historic Museum District

$129 includes dinner, wine pairings, tax and gratuity — plus a special gift.

Origin: What is The Feast of the Seven Fishes?

Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a traditional Italian Christmas Eve celebration featuring at least seven courses of fish and seafood. It is also know as La Vigilia, or The Vigil, and celebrates the wait for the midnight birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. It is unclear and the stories vary, but most believe La Vigilia originated along the impoverished, coastal regions of Southern Italy.

Tradition: Why the number Seven?

There are many uses of the number seven in the Bible; however, The Feast of the Seven Fishes is most commonly thought to be tied to the Seven Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony and the anointing of the sick.
Variations on the number of appropriate courses for The Feast abound. Some call for nine types of fish to be served, signifying the Holy Trinity times three, and others say the correct number is 13, for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.

The Food: What is typically served?

Traditionally, each of the seven courses features a different main ingredient or a different method of preparation. The meal includes various types of seafood, as Italians use the word fish to mean all types of sea creatures. It’s also likely, in true Italian fashion, to find traditional dishes like pasta featuring a seafood sauce. Other common offerings include fried small fish like sardines or fish balls, a light or acidic salad with seafood, grilled or broiled eel or smoked fish, and perhaps a seafood soup.

Many seafoods may grace the holiday table these days, such as anchovies, sardines, salt cod, smelt, eel, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, oysters, and clams. Fish might include whatever can be found fresh that day, for example: sea bass, bluefish, tuna, trout, or tautog (in Virginia).

A menu for our dinner at Deco will not be released as it is dependent on what seafood is available and could change that day.

$129 includes dinner, wine pairings, tax and gratuity, plus a special gift.
We can’t wait to share this extra special holiday meal with you!

Tickets must be purchased in advance and are LIMITED.

Learn more and purchase tickets here.