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Park Slope Restaurant Mixes Rustic Sicilian with Rock 'n' Roll

By Leslie Albrecht | January 31, 2014 10:13am
 Bella Gioia will serve traditional Sicilian dishes, but the soundtrack will be alternative rock.
Park Slope Restaurant Mixes Rustic Sicilian with Rock n Roll
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PARK SLOPE — A new restaurant opening on Fourth Avenue will be serving traditional Italian flavors, but don't expect chicken parm with a Frank Sinatra soundtrack.

Bella Gioia's menu will be "strictly Sicilian" — even the wine list is 100 percent from Sicily — so rather than spaghetti carbonara, they'll serve involtini di pesce spada (rolled swordfish stuffed with crabmeat, breadcrumbs and tomatoes).

Chef and owner Nico Daniele studied at the Italian program at the French Culinary Institute and honed his cooking at a resort hotel in Sicily. His family's roots are in the Sicilian seaside city of Cefalu, and the menu will reflect that heritage with dishes such as pasta con le sarde, which is long pasta with fresh, whole sardines, raisins, pine nuts and Sicilian olive oil. The dish will be garnished with shavings of botargo, which is dried and salted tuna roe.

Daniele plans to train his waiters to have deep knowledge of the ingredients and story behind each dish, so diners feel like they're eating with a trusted family member — maybe someone like Daniele's grandma or mom, who taught him how to make specialties like arancini (rice balls.)

Bella Gioia's decor is meant to convey a sense of comfort and familiarity as well. It's being designed by Hecho Inc., the design and construction firm behind many high-profile hot spots. Hecho was the general contractor on the Lower East Side's Beauty & Essex and designed the Williamsburg location of The Knitting Factory.

At Bella Gioia, Hecho Inc.'s designers are using reclaimed materials in almost every inch of the space. The bar top was once the floor of an old Southern train depot and the bar front will be decorated with light blue and red vertical pieces of wood that were once broom handles. Table tops will be made out of antique pine pallets, and old airplane parts will be used as light sconces.

"Every single item...has a story behind it," said Hecho Inc. principal designer John Kole. "There’s not a whole lot in there that's new except the paint on the walls."

Kole said vintage materials were usually higher quality than their modern counterparts, and the overall effect gave a sense of familiarity to the restaurant's customers.

The look of the restaurant was loosely inspired by the idea of an old Sicilian farmhouse, and architects have added a vaulted brick ceiling for a cozy feel.

But Daniele, 22, will incorporate some quirky touches. The stereo will play his favorite alt rock and folk punk, including songs by the Italian rocker Vasco Rossi, and menus will be printed on album covers.

Daniele said he chose the location, at 209 Fourth Ave. and Union Street, because it's an area that's about to become a "food hub." Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened in 2013 on Union Street off Fourth Avenue, and a new taco restaurant will open soon around the corner from Bella Gioia.

There are also plans to replace the gas station and parking lot across from the restaurant with Gowanus Inn & Yard, a boutique hotel.

"This is going to be one of the new hot spots," Daniele said.

Bella Gioia is still under construction, and Daniele is aiming for a March 1 opening.