The lauded chef behind Lincoln Jonathan Benno makes his return to the NYC dining scene tonight with the opening of Leonelli Taberna, a Roman-inspired trattoria in the Evelyn Hotel at 7 East 27th St., between Fifth and Madison avenues in Nomad. It’s just the first of several projects from Benno, a chef who’s particularly respected among other chefs. In a couple weeks, he’ll also open a bakery and café in the hotel called Leonelli Focacceria e Pasticceria, plus a flagship fine dining Mediterranean restaurant called Benno.
Benno left Lincoln Ristorante in 2017 after a six-year tenure as its chef, and for the past year, he has been developing the Evelyn Hotel projects and recipe-testing, he says. Leonelli Taberna is opening at a time when Roman food is exploding across NYC, but Benno says he decided to go that route before the trend started. “We timed it perfectly, didn’t we?” Benno says. “Roman food is having a moment.”
But while some Roman classics can be found on the menu, Leonelli Taberna isn’t strict in its interpretation of a Roman trattoria. “There’s also lasagna, and now we have a seafood pasta that you would associate more with the cuisine of southern Italy,” he says. “We’re not 100 percent Roman.”
The final menu has antipastis like a roasted chicken broth soup with farro dumplings; a frutti di mare made with scallops, shrimp, mussels, squid, and clams; and a grilled octopus dish. The pastas include a gnocchi with braised oxtail, a spinach pasta lasagna with beef and pork ragu, and a crispy saffron pasta spaghetti with braised lamb. The restaurant also has two “dishes for two” sets, including a whole black sea bass and a 30 day dry-aged t-bone steak.
Benno’s team includes Lincoln alums as well as folks from Per Se and Gramercy Tavern, where Benno also previously worked. Pastry chef Lindsey Bittner of Gramercy Tavern and Le Bernardin helms the dessert menu, which features an arborio rice pudding with rhubarb sorbetto and a lemon curd torta.
“I immediately fell in love with the space and the opportunity,” says Benno, who initially met the property owners five years ago. He was attracted to creating something new in an old space. The building was built in 1905, and the design of Leonelli Taberna — led by Parts and Labor Design — maintains some of the old-world aesthetic, mixed with more modern inclinations. The original flooring has been preserved, cracks and all, while the open kitchen leans more contemporary. A cocktail bar and lounge with similar casual vibes is also connected to the restaurant.
The bakery, located in the front of the hotel, is slated to open on July 9 and will serve Italian cookies and pastries, focaccia, sandwiches, salads, and soups, featuring a coffee program by La Colombe. Take a look at the menus for Leonelli Taberna below. It is now open daily from 5 p.m to 11 p.m. with the bar open until 1 a.m.