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Tri-level Mediterranean restaurant Vareli first entered the dining fray in Morningside Heights back in 2010, and now it’s getting a re-boot with a pair of new managing partners, Richard Bill and Derrick Styczek. The duo worked together at Ouest before Styczek took over the kitchen at Etats-Unis, a small Upper East Side restaurant where he earned a Michelin star, and then moved to Europe, picking up another Michelin star for his work at Oslo restaurant Bagatelle.
Now that the partners are on board at Vareli, they’re making some sweeping changes to the lists. We chatted with Styczek, who told us a bit about how he got here and where he plans to take the menu.
Tell us how this came together.
In 2003, I was the sous chef at the River Café in Brooklyn, which was important because it’s where I found that liked doing the seafood thing more than everything else. I moved on to become the chef de cuisine at Ouest on the Upper West Side, and that’s where I met Rich, who was the sommelier. We have similar styles and views on service, so we kept in touch.
After that, I went back to the Upper East Side to Etats-Unis. It was a small, 30-seat restaurant, and I did my own food and got a Michelin star. Unfortunately, we had to close, so I decided to pick up and travel, and I went to Scandinavia for four years. I took a job as a head chef in Oslo [at Bagatelle] and got a Michelin star there, too.
I came back to the States on April 1 . I’d touched back down for about a week, and Rich called me and said, “It’s time.” The opportunity came to take this space over, and that was the move. We started at the end of April, though we were still operating under the old menu.
What’s the vision for Vareli’s future?
George [Zoitas] and Ian [Joskowitz]–who own this and Westside Market–have always been pretty busy without any PR. But they started thinking, “What if this was also a destination restaurant instead of just based on Columbia?” They realized that the concept they had meant they couldn’t reach out to a broader audience.
So what are you doing with the menu?
The menu is very much about what our guests want; there has to be something there for everyone. Everything is organic and sustainable, and the list is seafood-based. We have a build-your-own section where you choose your own dish and a side. We’ll start offering a market-driven tasting menu probably by the end of the summer.
The menu is all versions of what I did at Etats-Unis, but there, I cooked in a fine-dining, 30-seat Michelin restaurant. So I have to take the same concept and make it a bit more rustic. The space is a lot bigger–we have 1,300 square feet per floor and three floors–so we have to simplify to be able to accommodate our size.
All of the appetizers have been pretty popular, especially the surf and turf [which matches beef carpaccio to lump crab] and the smoked trout. Composed dishes are popular with people in for a night out. [Editor’s note: Representatives for Vareli also recommend the lamb loin roulade with parsley root, lingonberry, and green peppercorn sauce, and the shellfish carbonara with spaghetti and pata negra.]
What other changes are you planning to make?
Rich is upgrading the wine list and cocktail list now. We’re in talks about also building a new wine cellar but on the third floor, so it will be called the wine attic. There’s a private dining room attached to the wine attic, so we can start having some private dinners where we can show off a little more and do the nicer things. We’re excited to be opening and getting something done. The more we get done here, the faster we can get more locations open, and that’s the end goal.