Following a 400 percent rent hike, Nomad neighborhood restaurant I Trulli has brought on a new pedigreed chef and reconcepted to slightly modernize the 24-year-old Italian spot.
Owner Nicola Marzovilla’s Apulian restaurant, at 124 East 27th St. between Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue South, has brought on chef Ben Smallman, who last cooked at fine-dining restaurant Gabriel Kreuther. He’s bringing that fancy French experience, adding tasting menus and dishes like artichoke-stuffed cappellacci with crab and jalapeño sauce, as well as a sausage-stuffed rabbit with mustard aioli and pickled carrots. All the pasta is still handmade made by Marzovilla’s 83-year-old mother Dora Marzovilla, and some of her dishes are untouchables. The orechiette with rabbit ragu and malloreddus in sausage ragu will both remain as they are.
Marzovilla decided to make the changes to keep up with rising costs, general manager George Hock tells Eater. He says the rent is still below market rate, but that after a long lease, it drastically increased, and so the team wanted to make the restaurant current, too.
“We’re not looking to reinvent our wheel; we just want to make sure it maintains the quality and stays on the cutting edge of what people are doing in the city,” Hock says. “We’re letting Ben go wild in the kitchen, but also staying with the family’s idea of what the restaurant was originally supposed to be: Puglian cooking, taking peasant dishes and making them very good.”
They’re also focusing more energy on social media and updating the space. Next door, what was sister pizzeria Sottosuolo will become Ristoro del Cinghiale, a more casual Tuscan tavern with an open kitchen. Smallman is also in charge of the food there, once the space opens following a complete renovation.
I Trulli isn’t stranger to keeping up with the times. The restaurant went tip-free in 2015, instead adding a 20 percent administrative fee to the bottom of each check that it could distribute freely to both front- and back-of-house staff. The change only lasted about a year, before it returned to a traditional tipping model after some regulars complained.