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New Mediterranean Restaurant Tessa Looks to Revive UWS Block

By Emily Frost | April 3, 2014 11:13am

UPPER WEST SIDE — The exposed brick, bright cherry blossom branches, and industrial-chic furniture at the new Mediterranean restaurant Tessa stand in stark contrast to the space's past as a divey sports bar.

For more than five years after the bar, Time Out, shuttered, the Amsterdam Avenue space sat empty next to a collection of other vacant storefronts along the block between West 77th and 76th streets.

On Thursday night, the upscale spot will open its doors in a bid to revive the beleaguered block, looking to tempt Beacon Theatre-goers, Equinox gym devotees and JCC members alike.

Co-owner Larry Bellone has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and always wanted to open a restaurant in the area. The former banker teamed up with restaurateur Will Tracy, who co-owns Punch Restaurant, and chef Cedric Tovar, who most recently worked at Daniel

Bellone named the restaurant after his 20-year-old daughter.  

"We wanted something comfortable and relaxed, high-end but accessible," he said, adding "we knew the neighborhood didn't want anything too frilly or too fancy."

The ceiling and lamps are reminiscent of security gates, with their crisscross pattern repeated throughout the space, which was designed by Bates Masi + Architects. The vibe they sought was urban, industrial and modern, Bellone explained.

As part of the design, when diners head downstairs to the bathrooms, they'll see a working kitchen separated by a glass partition, he said. 

Rather than creating a separate bar menu for the 25-person bar and high-top table area at the front, Bellone made sure that patrons can order everything on the menu everywhere in the restaurant, including the more formal dining room.

Small plates and appetizers, as well as pastas in large and small sizes, a grill section, seafood and meat are all on the menu.

Tovar described the cuisine as "South of France with a hint of Italian," including plenty of citrus flavors. 

The chicken, duck, quail and rabbit will be slaughtered by their butcher Lapera Brothers Poultry in Brooklyn, the same day it is served, he said.

The cheese will come from Saxelby Cheese on the Lower East Side and the produce from the local greenmarket, all in an effort to keep the food as locally sourced as possible, he explained. 

It will be open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 'til midnight Thursday through Saturday

Bellone made an agreement with Community Board 7 to stay open only until 2 a.m. on weekdays and until 4 a.m. on weekends, but he hasn't officially set those hours.

"We'll stay open as late as people are here," he said.