Chef Adam Leonti will make his long-awaited New York debut with dishes like stuffed rabbit, milk-braised lamb, and salt-baked branzino at his new Italian restaurant Leonti, opening Thursday in the UWS space that once held Dovetail.
The new iteration is an upscale venue inspired by Milanese and Torinese restaurants that couple high-quality service with unfussy dishes, Leonti says. While it’s a fine-dining, white-tablecloth experience, the food is meant to be “simple” and “pure,” says the chef, who has been trying to make his mark on NYC’s restaurant scene since 2015.
Leonti replaces what used to be American fare with elegantly plated yet uncomplicated Italian dishes. A salt-encrusted branzino, for example, is brought to the table whole before it’s taken back to the kitchen to be filleted and plated alongside turnips and beets. It’s a straightforward dish served in a theatric way. Others, like milk-braised lamb served over rosemary beans, belie the work that goes into the dish, with that lamb being aged for two weeks.
Sometimes, the menu may pull from flavors beyond Italy. “That’s also the reason I put my name on [the restaurant] versus an esoteric Italian name because if it’s my name, it means I can do what I want,” he says.
Leonti, who became known for his Italian cuisine at Vetri in Philadelphia, found his way to NYC in 2015 to helm the kitchen at Harvey in the Williamsburg Hotel. Two years later the restaurant still hadn’t opened, so the chef left to work with John McDonald at Sessanta in the Sixty Soho hotel instead. He was then sued by the Williamsburg Hotel for breaking a non-compete agreement, a lawsuit that was upheld in court.
Leonti was forced to leave NYC and worked in Germany until the non-compete ran out. Dovetail’s former chef John Fraser left last May prompting owner Lewis Pell to revive the restaurant within a different genre of food — which Leonti was ready to take on.
He intends for the Italian restaurant to cater to the neighborhood just as Dovetail once did. Leonti has even hired 15 to 20 former Dovetail staffers, hoping the familiar faces will help bring previous customers in.
There’s also a 12-seat bar to reel people in, and a private dining room that fits up to 23 will hold events like pasta- and bread-making classes. An extensive wine list will offer 2,000 choices, and breads like focaccia and sourdough will be made by Leonti himself, who brought in a mill to make fresh flour. Pastry chef Corie Greenberg will do the desserts.
The space itself also received an upgrade: It now seats 70, compared to 83 before, allowing plenty of space between tables for an added sense of privacy, something not commonly found in NYC’s tight restaurants.
Prices begin at $16 for an appetizer, at $22 for pasta, and at $32 for entrees; the menu is in full below. Leonti opens Thursday, November 1, at 5 p.m. and will be open until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and Sunday, and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.