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Giulio Adriani spent a lifetime perfecting pizzas, so it may seem like a bit of a shock when you walk into his new restaurant Espoleta (334 Bowery; 212-466-3300) and find goat picadillo empanadas on the menu. Espoleta, like the name of its predecessor Forcella, means wishbone, but that is where the similarities between the two restaurants come to a close. Espoleta is a fusion tapas restaurant drawing on Mexican, Spanish, and Italian cultures. The venture also marks the return of Sue Torres to the dining scene after a brief hiatus.
“Something more refined, that was my idea,” says Adriani about the revamp of his Neapolitan pizza-focused abode. He settled on a wine bar and tapas concept to best accommodate the needs of a changing landscape on the Bowery. He acknowledges that the change was hard: “My flavor profile is strongly Italian, so to be able to honestly distinguish and appreciate another cuisine…the mindset [I needed] to reach was very hard.”
He called upon chef Torres, who made her name at Mexican restaurant Sueños, as a mentor to collaborate on the dishes he envisioned serving.
“To succeed as a woman in the kitchen is hard,” he says. “You need to be tough in terms of personality…To see her successful and that personality was impressive.” Thanks to the teamwork, Espoleta’s menu is a mixture of cultures. Italian flour is used to make goat picadillo empanadas, while a tamarind glaze is in the recipe for hanger steak. Familiar words like croquettes appear, while artichoke fondue consists of Spanish cheeses. The menu is broken up into traditional categories such as pintxos, cheeses, and tapas; larger plates are also available.
Adriani also focused on making his location a place people could come and just grab a drink at the bar. One major component of the restaurant is the half-glass serving size available for wines. The idea is that smaller portions equal a greater opportunity for experimentation, especially when you have a variety of small plates to choose from. The wine list currently offers 30 by-the-glass selections, and wine director Ariel Lacayo also plans to expand the Sherry and Cava offerings to explore “the best of every region of Spain.”
Another adjustment guests will notice is the change in music and decor. The restaurant’s brick walls are now lined with shelves displaying bottles, while the sounds of acoustic guitar and Spanish voices blast throughout the dimly lit room, serenading cozy couples at two-tops and groups hidden away in booths. The new dining room offers seating at the bar as well, in addition to table service.