The opening of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's newest baby, La Sirena, is just two days away. This sprawling indoor-outdoor restaurant in Chelsea's Maritime hotel will begin dinner service at 5 p.m. on Thursday. After a slew of delays, Joe Bastianich is ready for it to finally open. "[I'm excited] to have people to come in and pay to eat something," Bastianich jokes. The restaurateur sees La Sirena as something that's a little broader than his other restaurants with Mario Batali — a traditional Italian trattoria, but more modern. It's more casual than Babbo, but more upscale than Lupa. As for the food, Bastianich says it's about "bringing deliciousness back into dining."
"There's a lot of fine dining that is very technical," Bastianich says. "This is fine dining, but it's also delicious in the lustiness and the simple deliciousness of the food...something that really makes people want to eat more. Satisfying and delicious and provocative and soulful."
Bastianach and some members of the team — including Jeff Katz, Luca Vesnaver, chef Josh Laurano, and pastry director Michael Laiskonis — sat down with Eater to talk about the opening of La Sirena. From the humongous bar space to how La Sirena created its menu for the neighborhood, here are eight things to know about the restaurant ahead of its opening.
1) The bar is La Sirena's physical centerpiece. La Bottega, the previous restaurant in the space, had an expansive patio along Ninth Avenue that required servers to shuttle food outside in order to get it to a second dining room. "Running food outside doesn't usually keep it that warm," says Katz. "We wanted to make sure that we were building a food-first, quality-first, kind of space." To make use of both dining rooms, they had to enclose a portion of the patio.
The result is a huge space separating the two dining rooms, with a 38-foot long white Caesarstone bar in the middle of it. Diners enter the restaurant through here, and with high ceilings, tables lining the windows, and a floor decorated with handmade Portuguese pavers, it feels like a place to stay to hang out. "We definitely want people to come in and have a drink," Katz says. "We're as proud of the bar as we are the rest of the restaurant."
2) La Sirena has B&B's biggest cocktail program yet in New York. The cocktail list has more than two dozen Italian-influenced options, including a Coppa di Sicilia, with Italian liqueur Averna Amaro, ginger, cucumber, lime, and ginger beer; and a Gazehound, with Italian vermouth Punt E Mes, grapefruit, and Maldon salt. "We needed something that would go alongside with the breadth of the bar space itself," Katz says. To keep the focus of the bar on the drinks, the full dinner menu won't be served in the area for the foreseeable future.
3) Despite the heavy bar emphasis, the dining experience is meant to be quieter and "sophisticated." The two dining rooms each seat about 100 people, and the team wants the experience to be serene enough to bring your parents. "The bar itself can kind of be excited and lively," Katz says. "The dining room can maintain a certain sense of serenity when you’re sitting down for a dinner conversation. You get the best of both worlds."
4) Outdoor seating, including semi-private and private dining, will be a big part of the program. In warmer months, about 100 seats will open up on the outdoor patio, giving the number of seats in the restaurant a 50 percent jump. The team also removed La Bottega's cement stucco facade on the dining rooms and replaced them with glass doors that can be opened onto the patio. Soon, long tables in front of those doors will act as semi-private patio dining spaces. "It's not at street level, so it's not so chaotic," Katz says. "It's not rooftop, so you're not completely removed."
Two more dining rooms upstairs will later open up as private dining space, and like the downstairs, a connection to the outside will be emphasized. The greenhouse-like rooftops on the private dining rooms are retractable, leaving the sky open to diners.
5) The menu is "broader" than B&B's previous restaurants. Babbo, Lupa, and Del Posto were all more "specific" restaurants," Bastianich says. By comparison, La Sirena will be offering a wider variety of food. "This place could serve thousands of people a day. It’s got to be a little bit of everything, which is different [for us]," Bastianich says. "It's an interesting hybrid of traditional delicious food and then lighter, more sexy food." Laurano points out that people can order offal, but they can also order a steak for two, depending on their taste. The neighborhood has "a very broad appeal," from tourists and gallerists to local residents, Bastianich says, and so they want to please a variety of palates. The menu has seafood options like grilled calamari and a spicy octopus pasta, and meat options like a braised beef short rib and sautéed duck breast. "Hopefully there's something on the menu for everyone," he says.
6) But they still consider pasta a star. Laurano, a Babbo veteran, says he thinks the pasta will be a signature for La Sirena. Options include a semolina pasta with pork spare ribs in tomato sauce; a casarecce with broccoli rabe, aleppo, and sesame; and spaghetti with sausage and escarole ragu. For $24-per-person, diners can also have a tasting of two pastas.
7) Breakfast, lunch, and room service will be coming later. La Sirena is cooking the food for the hotel, meaning three full meals a day and room service will eventually be offered. Breakfast will feature traditional items like eggs and pancakes, as well as dishes with an Italian twist like eggs in purgatory, where eggs are baked in a spicy tomato sauce, Laurano says. Room service won't offer the full menu, instead focusing on dishes that travel well. Hotel guests can expect things like braised and grilled meats, which retain their heat better, Laurano says.
8) La Sirena is really big. The restaurant will ultimately seat about 300 people once the patio opens, not including the private dining rooms or bar. The sheer size is partly what delayed the opening for months, particularly the bar over the old patio. Creating a new indoor space meant a slew of permitting and construction issues that took extra time. "It’s not like it used to be 20 years ago," Bastianich says. "20 years ago, you just opened a restaurant up. Now it’s more bureaucratic."
But it's the space that prompted the restaurateurs to open in New York again in the first place. They hadn't been thinking about opening another restaurant in the city until they saw the potential at the outdoor-indoor space, Bastianich says. Separately, Katz used to walk by it every night and always thought it was special. "It's a big comeback to the market in a big way," Bastianich says.