Chef John Taylor’s legions of fans were shocked when he closed John Taylor’s Genuine Kitchen and Wine with little fanfare, announcing in mid-January that he’d sold his 30-seat baby in Old Ottawa South to Tony Irace.
Just two months later, after a quick refresh, Irace has launched Antipazzo Italian Plates and Wine with Chef Christopher St. Aubin in the kitchen. St. Aubin, who worked with John Taylor in the past and, most recently, cooked out of Salt Dining + Lounge, will preside over a menu of farm-to-fork Italian food.
The new restaurant is a labour of love for Irace, who in the mid-2000s ran the critically acclaimed but short-lived NAPO Farm to Table Italian Cuisine. Back in Ottawa from his most recent gig in Venice as a wine expert with Holland America cruise lines, Irace sat down with City Bites Insider to talk about the whirlwind of activity around the opening of Antipazzo Italian Plates and Wine.
How did you find out John Taylor was planning to close?
I worked at Domus from 2001-2007 as a waiter and sommelier and I always kept in touch with John and Sylvia [Taylor, his wife]. When I was working with Holland America I got six weeks of holiday so when I was back home in Ottawa, the first place I would come was to Taylor’s for a bottle of baco noir and a mixed grill. One time I even came straight from the airport — I missed John and Sylvia, but also their cooking!
So he knew you might want to open a restaurant if the opportunity arose?
He did. I was in Venice when he let me know that they really were planning to close Taylor’s. We talked back and forth for about six months. For me, it felt like the timing was right to come back to Ottawa.
Tell me about the menu.
There will be some Italian inspired small plates; some nice antipasto. We’ll be serving pasta both as an appetizer portion and main course. Right now we have about seven Italian-inspired main courses. My mantra is ‘good, clean, and fair’ so the food has to be tasty, with no pesticides, and fairly paid for at full market price. That’s our template.
Chef Christopher St. Aubin is well-regarded in his own right. Which of you is developing the menu?
It has been very collaborative. I love to cook and eat, but I’m not a chef! So I might tell Chris that I think we should have duck on the menu and let’s do an Italian spin. He then cooks up a few dishes and we try them together and choose one for the menu. Chris worked at Taylor’s for a few years, so he knows the space and can jump right back onto the line, he’s got good technique, and he’s really excited to be here. I want him to be part of the atmosphere.
What will your role be?
I’ll be on the floor. It will be like on the ship — we had a system with waiters and a roving sommelier. So the waiters will be on the floor, but I will be around, introducing wine and talking to guests. I have an antique espresso machine that’s about 60 years old, so I’ll be running that, too. I want to spend my time managing the space and interacting with the guests. I rarely sit still!
You’ve been immersed in wine for the past few years. Will wine be a big part of Antipazzo?
It will be. And there will be wine at affordable price points. In Italy, if you order house wine it comes off the tap. I’ll do that here by offering some Ontario wines from a keg — a baco from Henry of Pelham, maybe, or a Creekside pinot grigio. I want guests to feel comfortable coming in for a glass or two of wine and some snacks. We’ll do 3- and 5-oz pours, which will start as low as $3.75 for 3 ounces.
Tell me about the renovations.
It has been so quick. I’ve brightened up the space with bright, white walls and a white quartz counter on the bar. The bar chairs are also red and I’ll change the main chairs to red once summer arrives. I’ve always collected wine labels so I’ve framed some for the walls. The wall behind the bar is grey slate.
This is your second restaurant. Are you nervous given that you had to close NAPO fairly soon after it opened in 2008?
When I opened NAPO, the food was very good but the location was very difficult. A lot of people warned me about that before I opened, but sometimes you have blinders on. You don’t take the advice that’s in front of you. But even when I closed there, I knew I would open another restaurant one day. I have learned a lot in the years since.
What’s the name all about?
Antipazzo is a play on words. Everyone knows antipasto means appetizer, but the word pazzo means crazy in Italian. Opening a second restaurant is kind of crazy! But pazzo means “crazy about something.” When I was a boy, everyone would say, “That Tony is pazzo for pasta.” And since I was a boy, I have been crazy about restaurants — it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Thanks. I’m very excited about being in Old Ottawa South, and serving approachable wine and food. I can’t wait to welcome everyone.