AG Bistro Offers Fresh Take in Place of Aging Restaurant Nonna

By Emily Frost on March 1, 2013 10:40am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — Jeremy Wladis wants carbs out and small plates in at his restaurant.

That's part of what shaped the owner's decision to transform his eatery Nonna, located at West 85th Street and Columbus Avenue, into a new venture he's calling AG Bistro. 

"People feel [Italian] to be a little starchy and heavy. This is lighter, cleaner," said Wladis of the switch from Italian to a new restaurant with French- and American-inspired small plates. 

In just a week, Wladis whisked away the old decor of Nonna, knocked down a couple of walls and completely redecorated the space to open as AG Bistro on Monday.

Wladis is part of a team called The Restaurant Group, which owns and manages several Upper West Side spots, including AG Kitchen, Amigos and Firehouse Tavern.

Nonna was a fixture in the neighborhood for 10 years, but along with the dwindling interest in its heavier food, the quality of the food had diminished, Wladis said. 

"Sales were down and the product we put out wasn't as good as it once was," he said.

To create something new, Wladis enlisted the help of his friend Chef Gerry Hayden, who is known for his North Fork Table & Inn on Long Island, to oversee the new menu. It will be executed by chef Stella Sellian, who cooked for Gramercy Tavern, among many other places. 

Part of the proceeds from the restaurant, which Hayden consulted on, will go toward ALS research through his charity, Hayden's Heroes. Hayden was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. 

Hayden at first thought Wladis' ideas for AG Bistro were "too mainstream" and that he wasn't "going to be involved unless the restaurant was something special," recalled Wladis. Hayden insisted they try small plates.

As a result, nothing on the menu — a mix of salads, chicken and beef and lots of seafood — is more than $12.95, with the idea that guests can either order a few or just one small plate, depending on how hungry they are.

"It's not plain. It's got esoteric twists," Wladis said of the menu. 

These twists include foie gras stuffed prunes with lavender infused white balsamic for $9.50, or chorizo in a blanket with herb mustard sauce for $7.95. 

Stellian, who will head the kitchen, said she drew inspiration from her travels in the South of France and Northern Spain. 

"I like to keep it simple and fresh," said Stellian of the offerings, which include house-made foccacia, a tuna nicoise burger, quinoa cakes and mussels.

It would be easy enough to assume that the 'AG' in the restaurant's name stands for Alex Garcia, the chef behind another of Wladis' restaurants, just blocks away on Columbus Avenue. But, Wladis said, it stands for "all good," a phrase he said he utters a lot. 

"I've heard a lot of sadness about Nonna," said Wladis, but he said he's confident his new place will be a hit. 

This weekend, the restaurant will serve its first round of brunches, which, along with the specialty cocktails designed by mixologist Christian Post, Wladis said will be popular and invite a hip crowd.

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