“I like to joke that if you’d put my father in the kitchen with Thomas Keller, you would have gotten the food at Arthur on Smith,” says Chef Joe Isidori of his new Carroll Gardens restaurant, which opened at the end of March.
Isidori’s late father is the Arthur of the Smith Street restaurant, and one third of its three generations of chefs. The last third is Isidori’s grandmother, who taught him how to make pasta. Though inspired by his nonna’s kitchen, Isidori eschews the ‘from grandma-to-table’ label. “‘Grandma’s cooking’ makes most people think of just basic comfort food – baked ziti or meatballs,” he explains. “She was a professional chef who made serious, well-executed food.”
After Culinary School Isidori strayed from his roots, cooking “all the trendy stuff” for the Trump empire’s golf clubs and hotels (and for The Donald himself), earning a Michelin star along the way. In 2009 he returned to New York to helm the now-shuttered Harbour, and continued to focus on seafood at Southfork Kitchen, the noted farm-to-table Hamptons hotspot.
Isidori heard a culinary wake up call when his father passed away in 2010. “My father would always tell me, ‘Stop with all the fuss. People want food that’s from the heart and soul.’ When he died, his words became sobering and true. I knew I needed to make a restaurant that was straightforward, real, warm and casual.”
As a tribute to his dad, Isidori opened a second restaurant with thoughtful interpretations of beloved family recipes: A Long Island take on his father’s veal saltimbocca boasts a smoked North Fork duck “saltimbocca” with a sous vide egg from Green Thumb Farm, American speck and black kale from Satur Farms. Grandma’s ricotta gnocchi with meat sauce appears on the menu as handmade cow’s milk ricotta gnocchi with an artisanal Mangalitsa pork ragu; the sauce is made by slow-cooking whole pigs for 24 to 48 hours.
His new establishment fuses his grandmother’s old world traditions, his father’s sensibility and his own modern understanding of locavorism and seasonality. No fuss, no fluff. “Sustainability has become such a buzzword,” says Isidori. “It’s great to serve locally sourced, organic food, but it’s also important to sustain heritage. Sustaining your heritage will help lead to other forms of sustainability. It’s like you’re sustaining yourself.”
Arthur on Smith is sustainable in every sense of the word: Isidori draws on the extensive network of fisherman he developed in the Hamptons along with Sea to Table, Sona and the Blue Ocean Institute to source the ocean-friendly seafood that comprises 80% of the restaurant’s menu. Sustainability drives each element of the restaurant, from local, seasonal, consciously produced and largely organic ingredients to a locally skewed wine list with 20 New York State wines (and a dozen on tap, as shown above), recycling system and upcycled wood decor.
For Isidori, modern cooking is about consciousness: “We don’t serve salmon or tuna. Instead we serve more sustainable, abundant fish, like Arctic char and Spanish mackerel. We’re paying homage to the past with a modern, responsible philosophy.”
Arthur on Smith
276 Smith Street
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 6pm to 11pm.