Doherty Enterprises, a large franchise operator of Panera and Applebee's restaurants, opened Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas, an all-Italian small plates and wine concept in Clifton, N.J.
With more than 50 different small plates, 100 wines by the bottle and 42 by the glass, the concept steers away from typical three-course meal service. Executive Chef Joshua Bernstein, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, consulted on the menu and organized the offerings into the following categories: meatballs, salami, bruschetta, pastas, vegetables and grilled.
Award-winning architect Paul Portell, AIA, of Portell Architecture, PLLC in New York City, created an urban but warm setting with extensive wood detail offset by tile, steel and other industrial aesthetics and a combination of booth and communal seating. FE&S caught up with Portell to ask him about his inspirations for the design.
FE&S: How did you come up with the design concept for Spuntino?
PP: We used the image of an Italian train station from the beginning of the last century in order to convey a communal atmosphere, with the relaxed warmth of materials and lighting that lend themselves to a casual dining experience. The interior was divided into separate areas to create more intimate experiences, but with the spaces visually overlapping and offering views throughout the restaurant.
FE&S: Can you describe the architectural style of the restaurant to someone who has not seen it?
PP: The architectural style draws from those prevalent during the early 20th century in Italy combined with early industrial elements. The steel and glass wine display walls, the rough sawn oak with steel bands, timber beams above with steel bolts and the concrete floors all derive from this same aesthetic.
FE&S: What types of materials did you use? Were any of them imported from Italy?
PP: We wanted to convey the feeling of an historic structure with the warmth and beauty of natural materials. White Carrara marble from Italy was selected for the countertops for its historic use in butcher shops throughout Italy.
FE&S: How do you display the many wines offered?
PP: We came up with an idea to create an above-ground wine cellar with temperature-controlled glass walls. The wine display storage walls were conceived of as a functional way to serve wine and to divide the independent spaces of the restaurant with partial views orchestrated through the transparent glass.
FE&S: What are some of the other design elements of the space?
PP: A large window on the main façade announces the restaurant without relying solely on signage. The meat and cheese area and the main entryway are energetic spaces that welcome guests to the restaurant. A bright red prosciutto slicer sits on a freestanding marble table behind the bar, operated in the traditional way by hand crank, so the process of preparing dishes is center stage. In the main dining room, with its high-beamed ceiling in the center of the restaurant, two long communal tables allow large groups to gather. Round booths were designed to create intimate seating around the perimeter of the room. A private dining room sits behind two large, custom steel and glass doors.
FE&S: What was the main design challenge for the project?
PP: The initial challenge was to create a space that was new, but to have the warmth and character of a space that might have been there for years.