Enzo Fargione, the chef who single-handedly turned Teatro Goldoni into a dining destination, was fired from his job early this month after owner Michael Kosmides allegedly told the toque that he was “just too expensive,” according to the dismissed cook.
Teatro’s owners, says Fargione, will turn the K Street institution into a more informal trattoria. The first step in the process was apparently firing the guy who had created what was, at $125 per person, possibly the best chef’s table in the D.C. area.
According to Fargione, Kosmides approached him earlier about the possibility of converting Teatro into a trattoria but did not indicate it was a done deal. Then about a week later, Kosmides abruptly fired the chef and gave Fargione approximately 20 minutes to gather his books and leave via the back door, without saying goodbye to either his kitchen staff or his guests in the dining room.
“I was left without even a crumb of gratitude,” Fargione says, “and that kind of hurts my feelings.”
The chef was also left without a severance. Fargione says that, according to his five-year contract with Teatro, he was due, if terminated, a severance package worth two years of his base salary. He was also due a 90-day written notice before any firing. Fargione says he received neither but hopes the attorneys now involved will work out a severance deal to everyone’s satisfaction.
Kosmides says the firing had nothing to do with Fargione’s food costs or expenses and everything to do with diner feedback. “Our customers weren’t responding to the changes he made in the menu,” the owner says. “Our sales declined significantly since he changed the menu and concept.”
The decline, Kosmides adds, started from the moment Fargione revamped Teatro’s menu, despite all the good press he received. “We were as surprised as any,” he says. “I would have loved for it to work out.”
Kosmides describes Fargione as a “genius chef suited for 40 seats,” not a sizable space like Teatro, which needs a menu that will draw large crowds night after night. In this down economy, the days of $40 entrees are over, he says, maybe forever. Customers who will pay that kind of money are “few and far between,” says Kosmides, who is indeed revamping Teatro’s menu to include more pastas, smaller plates, and half-portions.
As far as Fargione’s abrupt firing and hasty exit, Kosmides thought that they had parted on good terms. He says his former chef was asked to leave quickly but had returned to the restaurant the next day. And what about the severance package? Kosmides says it only kicks in if the owners decide to exercise the non-compete clause in the Fargione’s contract, which they haven’t.
Which brings us to Fargione’s future. He’s currently lining up investors and scouting locations for his own place. He envisions a restaurant that’s an expansion of his chef’s table, with two separate tasting menus and a glass-enclosed wine cellar with a private dining space. “Something like Komi,” Fargione says.
He hopes to have all the financing lined up by the end of April, if not a location by then. “I’d like to think that my best is yet to come,” he says.
“Maybe this is a blessing,” Fargione says. “Maybe it was time for me to move on.”
Teatro Goldoni, 1909 K St. NW, (202) 955-9494.
Olney a matter of time
Javier Angeles-Beron was in South Beach when I reached him by cell phone, and he wasn’t on vacation trying to shout over a thumping DJ at some nightclub filled with more prime meat than a USDA slaughterhouse. He was prepping for the opening of a new restaurant in the Z Ocean Hotel, where he had just been named executive chef.
Angeles-Beron headed South after two recent projects/proposals went sour: In January, the chef closed Aroma, his remote chifa outpost in Olney, and more recently, he scuttled negotiations to move Aroma into the former Ceviche space in Silver Spring. The latter restaurant, a Latin Concepts property where Angeles-Beron once served as chef, finally closed down after weeks of rumors.
“It was too much work,” Angeles-Beron says about Aroma in Olney. “I was working seven days a week to make the place happen.” He says he was forced to sink more of his own money into the restaurant; he even turned to his father for a cash infusion.
It was a relatively easy decision, he says, to take the offer in South Beach. The restaurant market, he says, is still good in Miami, where tourists continue to comb the beach, recession or not.
The Z Ocean restaurant hasn’t opened yet. The owners, which include a Redskins player (whose name Angeles-Beron couldn’t remember), are overhauling the previous restaurant, Proof, and installing a whole new Latin-Asian concept. Chifa dishes will be on the menu as well as Asian-spiced ceviches. The restaurant’s new name has not been revealed.
Meanwhile, Latin Concepts’ founder Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld called from Ecuador to confirm that Ceviche had indeed closed, officially putting an end to that once semi-proud Peruvian concept. “We are good for small urban places,” Fraga-Rosenfeld says. “Our concept does not work in malls.”
Ceviche was located on the second level of an outdoor shopping mall in Silver Spring. Latin Concepts had tried to turn the place into an American tavern, much like it did with Ceviche in Glover Park. The group even talked with Angeles-Beron about his Aroma concept (although Fraga-Rosenfeld described the discussions as “not serious”). But in the end, Fraga-Rosenfeld decided to turn the property back over to the landlord.
It would take “too much energy for the return you’d get from the place,” Fraga-Rosenfeld says.
Rock Gets Ready to Roll
After months of searching, the ownership group of the forthcoming Sushi Rock has selected its opening chef for the Arlington restaurant, which will combine Japanese cuisine with delusions of pop-star grandeur (“Sushi Rock Set to Open Next Month in Former Yaku Space,” Young & Hungry blog, 2/17/10). The Public Group has plucked Sonny Tena, a former sous chef at SEI in Penn Quarter.
“Sonny is the one who excited us the most,” says Tony Hudgins, co-managing partner for Public Group. Tena impressed the owners so much, in fact, that the chef influenced Sushi Rock’s approach to cuisine, which will mix traditional Japanese sushi with hand rolls and some hot entrees.
Hudgins says that Tena will be given the freedom to create the sort of inventive maki sushi found at SEI, like the “fish and chips” and “sundried tomato” rolls. Hudgins says Tena, 31, has just been “waiting for the opportunity” to show off his own creativity.
Tena has worked not only at SEI but also at the well-respected Sushi Taro in Dupont Circle. He’s been cooking professionally since he was a teenager, Hudgins says. Sushi Rock is now scheduled to open during the first week of April. If it’s a success, look for more of them in the future.
Sushi Rock, 1900 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.