The chances are very slim outside New York of finding two unique restaurants on a block run by two brilliant young chefs. But on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village, you’ll find Wicked Jane, whom I mentioned last week, and two-year-old Frevo. I use the word “unique” in the truest sense to be “one of a kind” because the two restaurants are totally distinct from each other and from all other restaurants.
In Frevo’s case, the entrance is a bit of a puzzle from Alice through the looking glass: the dining room is hidden behind a hidden door in a small art gallery with a brightly lit storefront whose large paintings by Khari Turner and curated by Destinee Ross- Sutton is described to you by a host who will then remove one of these paintings from the wall to reveal the entrance to a dark and elegant dining room that resembles a sweatshop, dominated by a magnificent marble counter in front of a sparkling kitchen where the Brazilian-born chef-partner Franco Sampogna and his cooks work quietly to prepare dishes that you have certainly never seen before. More curious and more curious.
There are 22 seats, including a table for six in the back, but the comfortable counter chairs are well separated from each other so that two people can enjoy their personal space and conversation. The lighting is dim, with charming lamps on the counter that are, oddly enough, away from the dishes, so to appreciate the art and color of the food, you have to push the dishes into the light.
On the evening of my visit, most of the guests were Asian, including two women canooding at the end of the counter and two others who never took their eyes off their iPhones throughout the evening. My wife and I preferred to look at the kitchen ministry before us and talk to the authoritative manager-partner Bernardo Silva who serves you every dish and sommelier Quentin Vauléon, all with impressive CVs in France and New York. In the case of Sampogna, this means spending time with Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse, as well as cushy work aboard a private yacht.
The name Frevo is Portuguese, meaning ‘to boil,’ which Sampogna says refers to the sizzling energy of New York City. Still, Frevo’s pace, noise level, and atmosphere have a subdued sophistication without any fireworks. The experience of a six-course tasting menu at $ 158 is an experience of calm and pleasure. The menu changes with each season, and Sampogna insists that a tasting menu “is one of the most sustainable business models in the restaurant world” because nothing is wasted every night.
As you would expect in a restaurant of this style, even the menu is elegantly printed, on two types of paper, and then presented as a card with a work of art by the painter in the front gallery. You can also expect Sampogna’s style to lean towards modernism and the molecular, but her dishes are fairly straightforward, based on premium ingredients, and exquisitely presented. (His sources are printed on the back of the menu down to Amagansett’s sea salt.) He tends to smoke a lot of his dishes, even the butter that comes with homemade bread, which makes him smell and taste like if it had been kept open next to the smoked salmon in the refrigerator.
We started with three amused: a tapioca with smoked eel, a dash of sake and Kristal caviar; lobster with a subtle Breton curry and dill sprigs; and wonderfully sweet sea urchin with maitake mushrooms and fennel. These are dishes that really make you want to taste what comes next.
The red tuna is accompanied by an Asian note of coconut and lime caviar (which I have learned is an Australian lime), while the octopus is flavored with bacon, spicy Iberian chorizo and red pepper with a real satisfying kick. Currently, Sampogna serves a perfectly poached egg on brioche with generous shavings of white truffle, for an additional $ 24. The problem with white truffles – which sell for $ 5,000 a pound these days – is that many have minimal aroma and flavor, and Frevo’s that night was really subtle. A superb plate of wild black seabass highlighted the know-how that French training brings to seafood, here with woody chanterelles and miso with a yellow wine. This prepares you for the velvety gluttony of duck breast with pistachios, the scent of lavender and an explosion of Sichuan pepper.
The dessert is a chocolate-ganache tile filled with cocoa and almonds-salted caramel.
Food and wine pairings at $ 105 or $ 240 per person are quite logical, since Vauléon has an impeccable taste to pair his menu with Sampogna dishes. Otherwise, the list is very reasonably priced, with many bottles under $ 100.
The menu I just described will change this winter, but I can’t imagine Sampogna veering into something that isn’t inherent in her approach to cooking. It’s thrilling to see it prepared and served, delicious to consume, and a very uplifting atmosphere to do so.
48 West 8e Street
Open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.