May 24, 2010 | Short Order
Chef Roberto Passon hopes to Open Aria Wine Bar on Perry Street in early June

Roberto Passon's irresisitble penne with gorgonzola and peas.  Photo: Steven Richter

        Friuli-born chef Roberto Passon has struggled with landmark rules, his landlord and the local neighborhood board to open Aria, a small wine bar with 35 seats at 117 Perry Street in the former Al Fama space. “It will be cozy, with organic and biodynamic wines, meats and cheese and small plates from the electric kitchen “because gas is not allowed,” he laments. It was only after he made the deal that he discovered what his landmark status meant. “It will have subway ties and old mirrors because I stole some ideas from Keith McNally.  I am in love with Keith McNally’s style.” He expects to open by June 10.

         Passon chafed working under the dictates of his bosses at the New York Restaurant Group who own more than a dozen restaurants in New York City, mostly Italian, many in the theater area. 

         I discovered his cooking at the group’s Roberto Passon, now Giuliano on Ninth and 50th, but I really fell in love with the chef’s food at the dark and romantic Bocca di Bacco on Ninth between 54th and 55th. It too was billed as a wine bar and it had a noisy following but for me it was all about the food and a romance of black steel, stone and bare brick and flickering candles. “I never did get credit for that design that was mine,” he says.

         I went often almost always ordering the same dishes: his sensuous octopus salad, the fava bean soup with whipped ricotta, and his irresistible penne with gorgonzola and peas.

       There will not likely be any pasta on Perry Street. There is no venting for a real kitchen, he says. The three months free rent the landlord gave him flew by as he scrubbed the brick – “It got blacker whatever I did” -- and lost his first bid for a liquor license. He went back again and this time, won, adjusted his dreams and is almost ready to open. “It’s my first venture that’s 100 per cent on my own."

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