June 17, 2024

CPS

Travel Adventure

James Beard Rising Chef In New Jersey Blends Italian And Japanese Foods

4 min read

Chef Robbie Felice, a 2020 James Beard Rising Star Chef semi-finalist, who operates two successful Italian restaurants in New Jersey, Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo, is candid about what drove him to open pastaRAMEN, his latest eatery in Montclair, N.J. When he was contemplating opening a third eatery, he admitted that “There’s always a new Italian restaurant popping up” and wondered how many more Italian eateries it would take to do something new, forge a new path, enter a new culinary zone.

Like many chefs Felice wanted critics and people to pay attention to his food; only he’s more open about it than most. “It was the middle of the pandemic, and why am I going to open another Italian restaurant and beg someone to notice me?” he asked. So he decided: “I’ll do something different.”

That led him to opening pastaRAMEN in January 2023, specializing in wafu-Italian, a genre of cooking that Saveur magazine described as “Japanese-style cooking combining Asian and European influences.”

He started doing some research and discovered that wafu means in the style of Japanese. “I’d never done Asian food, so let’s dive in,” he said. During the pandemic he held prix fix Tasting Tuesday dinners at Viaggio, a 12-course meal for $295 a person, and experimented with wafu-Italian dishes that drew raves.

It’s Italian and Japanese

For example, he prepared temomi shrimp scampi and cacio de pepe gyoza fritta, an Italian pasta inside of a deep-fried Japanese dumpling. Hence, he’s combining Italian and Japanese ingredients, and many guests can’t tell where Asian or Italian flavors begin.

The shrimp scampi dish, for example, is a simple dish, consisting of garlic, white wine and parsley, but with the wafu-Italian style, he adds temomi ramen, and finishes it with fresh parsley, fresh lemon zest and a homemade garlic breadcrumb, and voila, you have a new style of dish.

But he’s come to the conclusion that “wafu-Italian is its own thing.” In fact, reservations at pastaRAMEN are hard to nab, and guests are coming from Southern New Jersey, and even some from New York City to dine there. “Doing something completely different than everyone else makes me happy,” he admitted.

PastaRAMEN is proving that chefs can combine Asian and Italian cuisines and succeed.

Why is the first word pasta lower-cased, but RAMEN is capitalized? Felice, always with a flair, replied, “It sends the message that I want to be disruptive. Being capitalized with half the name makes it stands out.”

Wafu-Italian Eateries Are on the Rise

Felice, who is 33-years-old, a native of Sussex, N.J. and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, points out that several eateries are combining Asian and Italian influences including Kimika on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Winston in Los Angeles, Tonari in Washington, D.C, so Italian and Japanese fusion cuisine is on the rise.

He also acknowledged that U.S. based chefs can learn from their European counterparts. In Europe, he cited there “are no preservatives and no additives that we have here in Americas.” Hence he tries to use as many imported ingredients as possible.

With his first two restaurants, Viaggio, which debuted in 2016 in Wayne, N.J. and Osteria Crescendo in Westwood, N.J., his business partner was his dad, but with pastaRAMEN, Luck Sarabhayavanija (known by his first name) is his business partner, who owns numerous Japanese eateries and also operates Montclair Hospitality Group, which helps oversee the day-to-day operations of pastaRAMEN, including supply chain ordering, hiring staff, and securing future deals.

Despite his continued success in New Jersey, he envisions opening an eatery in New York City, Miami and his “ultimate dream in Los Angeles.” He admits, however, that much about opening a new restaurant involves timing and luck and “finding that right deal that comes across your plate, which you’re going to have to take it and that’s what happened to me the past couple of years.”

Reaction on Yelp to dining at pastaRAMEN was mostly positive but varied. When Joyce from New Brunswick, N.J. finally snagged a reservation at pastaRAMEN with three friends, she said the “concept involves sharing,” which is what they did with mochi ramen, ramen shrimp scampi, porcini ramen, and a tofu dish.

She found the tofu dish “amazing” but the chicken katsu “a bit dry” and found the portions “small given the price points” but still found them “all delicious. Overall my experience at pastaRAMEN lived up to my expectations and I’ve been telling everyone about it.”

And Denise from Southern Jersey thought the “chef’s talent was unmatched. We cannot wait to get back; bring your appetite.” But Kristina from Berkeley Heights, N.J. wrote the “appetizers were amazing, and the mains pretty good, but don‘t think it justifies paying that price again.”

How does Felice balance operating three eateries simultaneously? “You’re only as good as your team. You can do anything with a good team,” he explains.

Despite his openness, one question Felice didn’t seem to address was what he has learned from his three eateries about meeting the needs of New Jersey patrons. His reply: “It’s been a fun journey figuring out exactly what that is,” never quite answers the question.

New pastaRAMENs On the Horizon

Felice is a bit mum about the future of pastaRAMEN, not wanting to show his cards. But he admits that “there will definitely be a second, then a third and then a fourth.” Asked where he’s thinking of opening next, he says it’s too early to discuss. But wafu-Italian seems destined to stay in his future.

link

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.