Stepping onto Elizabeth Street in Nolita, New York, your eyes can’t help but click to the pepto bismol pink of Pietro Nolita. The brunch-going tides of NYC need a shock to the system; something to jolt them from their feeds of food—Pietro Quaglia’s version of an Italian dinner, eschewing the swinging salamis for a zig-zagged banquette, and healthy spins on Italian fare, does the trick. We’ve seen cafés centred on colour schemes before, the Pantone Café did it, as did Julian Schnabel’s Palazzo Chupi in downtown years earlier, or the candy-coloured room at Sketch. Semaine spoke to Pietro, as he celebrated Nolita’s two-year birthday, championed the cause of pink, and shared some insights into his momma’s pasta carbonara (off-the-record, obviously).
Transplanting what Pietro called “the pastel colours of the Italian Riviera, during the summertime,” to the brick and mortar of downtown, Pietro Nolita stands out for its menu (that pasta alla carbonara or branzino with pink peppercorns), and its hue; a dreamscape for the Instagram-hungry. We parse apart most colours with lame signifiers such as ‘light’, ‘dark’; for Pietro Nolita, nothing less than ‘shocking’ pink would do.
“I’ve been living downtown since 2003; I’ve seen the neighbourhood change”, Pietro claimed, his restaurant a small piece of the block’s shifting puzzle. Only three blocks from the spot his parents bought imported cheese and Italian pasta from forty years earlier, Pietro acknowledged the upward hill towards opening in a basement: “I asked the Director of my culinary institute if he could come after work, to see the space, and he told me, like, “Pietro, I wouldn’t open it.” I did it anyway.” Fuelled by this vision as much as his appetite, Pietro had a strong sense of Nolita’s future brunchgoers: “I wanted to attract people that have a sense of aesthetic, some taste, I guess, in beauty.” The other fuel, his mother’s, Patrizia Ferrario’s, legendary pasta carbonara: “She makes the carbonara which we’ve brought to the restaurant here as well and which we serve only on the weekend; when I go back home I just eat my mum’s cooking, I don’t even go to a restaurant.”
For Pietro, searching for la dolce vita isn’t fruitless; it’s a simple route, with food always in his sights. On first opening Pietro Nolita, he reflects that he “didn’t reinvent the wheel—I just wanted to do something that was pleasing to my eye.” We’re appetitive creatures, after all, something Pietro has tapped into: “What’s better than a place where you can have a cocktail, a bowl of pasta, and be in a good-looking environment?”
Sating the appetite of the bottomless brunch crowd is a thankless, perhaps impossible task, one Pietro is still going to tackle: “Hopefully I can expand next door, and it’s gonna be a pizza place; it makes sense, being Italian.” The restaurant business is blood, sweat, tears (with acids and fat thrown in too, obviously); two years on from opening, Pietro acknowledges this, there’s no hint of looking at it all with, of all things, rose-tinted glasses: “If I go back now, to thinking about opening a pink place, I just think, ‘Mamma Mia’!”
By Jonathan Mahon-Heap for Semaine.