Trattoria Fondi Makes a Grand and Lasting Impression
The newest dining destination at the Bedford Village Inn exceeds expectations
Sometimes when there is a lot of build-up for an event, you set up expectations in your mind and then the reality ends up being a let down. I was assigned on your behalf, gentle reader, to experience just such an “event” — the opening of Trattoria Fondi, the newest dining destination at the Bedford Village Inn, and this is not one of those occasions.
Discretely tucked into the ground floor of The Grand (the most recent addition to the BVI grounds) is Trattoria Fondi. My wife, Charlene, and I arrived early to meet the amazing Kendal Bush (who took photos for this article), and everything was ready for service. Having both worked in and owned hospitality spots, I consider myself fairly in tune with the service aspect in bars and restaurants, and I enjoy reading the backstory through behavior and body language. I felt like we had walked into Delmonico’s NYC during the grand era of dining. The entire staff made eye contact and invited us to sit at the bar while Kendal photographed a few drinks and plates. I was certain that the maître d’ must have lined up everyone before shift to make sure that nails were trimmed and shoes were shined.
We were joined by Kendal’s arm candy, Aaron, and my friend and musical collaborator Ernesto (who also publishes this magazine). I had my lovely bride as a designated driver, so I assumed the dominant drinking role for the evening. I ordered an “Inn Fashion,” which, in addition to being a great pun, was a quaffable beverage. Woodford Bourbon, Bully Boy Amaro, Lindemans Kriek and hopped simple syrup. I am not a huge Lindemans fan, but the balance of the herbal hops and sweet/tart cherry with the vanilla and oak of the bourbon and the hit of bitterness from the amaro made a cocktail that was dangerously easy to drink.
Ernesto and Aaron started to argue about wine. I am not going to lie to you, gentle reader, and pretend that I am not a wine guy. I am. I was a wine guy with a lifetime tasting pass for Mirassou Winery as soon as I was 21 and I feel like I built the base of my flavor sense in those cellars. But the dude cannot abide wine conversations. Perhaps it is my California upbringing, where you heard phrases like “terroir” and “cork taint” in parent-teacher conferences, but I opted to gracefully back up from their chat (beep, beep, beep) and examine my surroundings a bit more closely.
The walls, partially wrapped in a lush, red grass wallpaper, gave a nice dimensionality to the space with much of the lighting tucked into soffits in the ceiling, so the illumination is diffuse and yet the space is not dark. A center half-wall displayed mismatched pieces of crockery, giving a nice homey diversion from the formality of the rest of the space. The room was originally a hotel lobby bar, and only emerged from its chrysalis late last year as Fondi. Occupancy is just 36 seats, and, as the cameras and lights were put away, most of those seats filled up quickly.
As the restaurant swung into full-capacity service, we sat down for our meal. Kendal may or may not have shot 100 or so more pictures and, in the process, perhaps moved us all around the table like it was the tea party in Wonderland and there was “no room!” Anything for the shot. I should have shaved.
Melissa Quinn-Samaras, sales and marketing director, organized the evening for us, and was there to make introductions and make sure we felt at home. We got to chat with Chef Tina Verville about seasonality and menu design, and then the first round of food arrived, opening with several salads, the best being a mix of bitter field greens, fennel and citrus supremes with a bit of ricotta salata cheese and a hint of bergamot vinaigrette. It reminded me of a salad we do at home, and mine disappeared in a flash.
As the next course made its way over, I was reduced to monosyllables of affirmation, such as “mmmmm” and “yahhhhh.” There appeared upon my table a tail of a whale with a bounty about it; a seafood tower to draw tears from Neptune himself. The shrimp were tender and sweet, perfectly toothsome. There were small, locally sourced oysters as well. I try not to be a snob, but when it comes to oysters, I am, and I’m glad I managed to grab the last one. Briney and clean, perfectly shucked, no sauce needed. Some small raw clams joined the party, but I never got to meet them. Rumor has it they were quite enjoyable. The smoked salmon was silky and not over-smoked, but I felt the real star was the smoked trout. Light mouthfeel, flakey yet moist, perfect smoke — I will totally try to rip this off the next time I fire up the smoker. And then, all of a sudden, all of the seafood was gone.
But fear not, my friend, for we have many more courses to go. Our server, Patrick, was masterful at assessing needs. He would silently walk by, making eye contact to see if we needed anything and continue on if not. Perfectly in tune yet unobtrusive, Patrick whisked the now-debauched tower away for a proper burial, and replaced it with a two-dimensional display of Mediterranean marvelousness; so many ways to make pork even better than it already was, all represented here: prosciutto, salume, capocollo. A nice assortment of olives adorned one end of the board, with fresh berries and candied orange peel. There were some airy housemade “cacio e pepe” crackers, as well as several fresh breads. On a normal night this would have been a wonderful dinner all by itself. The platter remained at our table, and we diligently worked on it over the next several hours. Servers removed plates, glasses and utensils as we discarded them. The service was truly top shelf.
We ordered another round, and Ernesto selected a bottle of Barolo, which had just the right balance of tannins and jammyness. Next up was a flatbread pizza. The crust was correctly crisped, the flavors were classic and on point — fig, prosciutto, mesclun, fresh mozzarella, with a balsamic drizzle. These flavors just sing together, earthy sweet and tart with a touch of bitter, creamy and crunchy — perfect. At this point, the dishes were coming out to be shared family-style, so we all got a taste of just about everything. An old-school bruschetta appeared and faded away like a ghost in a Colin Hay song.
Secondi started arriving, and the table quickly filled up. There was “costolette di manzo brasate,” a marsala-braised short rib with asparagus, herb-roasted potatoes and blistered cherry tomatoes. I definitely adopted that plate, and did not share well with the other children in class. Grilled shrimp with garlic and pesto followed, as did a wild boar bolognese with mascarpone, both of which were perfectly and delicately prepared. Lastly came “tagliatelle allo zafferano,” or clams with pancetta and garlic in white wine. It was like something you would see wiseguys eating in a gangster flick, with napkins tucked into their collars — out-of-this-world good, in a very uncomplicated way. Perhaps I ordered another cocktail.
The desserts were on the way, and, at this point, I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job. But I am not here to let you down, and I persevered if only for the sake of literature. I started with the obligatory gelato affogato, in which vanilla gelato quickly melted into hot espresso. That got me into dessert mode and I stopped second- guessing my own gustatory fortitude. The tiramisu was traditional, with the right texture though a little sweet for my taste, but that cannoli. That cannoli was exquisite. A housemade pastry shell contained pistachio-infused ricotta with just a hint of sweetness. Paired with a very dark espresso, those flavors carried me into the gentle embrace of satiety, and there I realized that we had been eating and drinking for four hours (!).
I can’t remember the last time I spent four hours on a meal. Looking ahead, I can’t think of a place I would rather do so than at Trattoria Fondi.