D.C. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s Italian Market Pops Up in Georgetown

The Officina sibling sells wine and Italian goods, with plans to expand. Plus, Philadelphia’s Marc Vetri opens a restaurant in Japan, New York’s Aquagrill closes after 24 years in SoHo, and more

D.C. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s Italian Market Pops Up in Georgetown
While the wines for sale at Officina's Georgetown pop-up are heavily Italian, you'll also find picks from international regions outside the boot. (Courtesy of Creative Food Group)
Jun 18, 2020

Restaurants in Washington, D.C., have faced a slew of recent challenges, stemming from the COVID-19 crisis and demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd. But chef-restaurateur Nicholas Stefanelli and his Creative Food Group (CFG) are carrying on and adding new locations to a portfolio that includes Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winners Officina and Masseria, starting with an Officina pop-up in Georgetown.

While the original Officina in D.C.’s waterfront complex the Wharf comprises multiple concepts including a market and a restaurant, the pop-up, opened June 5, is retail-focused. There’s a wine shop of mostly Italian selections and a market for Italian goods like pastas and snacks, plus weekly changing family-style meals for pickup. “Once D.C. begins to move toward phases 2 and 3 [of reopening], we plan to include additional dining,” John Filkins, CFG’s beverage director, told Wine Spectator. Filkins said the pop-up is temporary for now, but the group hopes to extend its time in Georgetown if possible.

Two of the group’s other upcoming concepts have been delayed, but are still in the works. Officina Café, an all-day eatery with “traditional Italian café energy” was originally slated for late March and will open soon, according to Filkins. Philotimo, Stefanelli’s first Greek restaurant, has been pushed to early fall.

Filkins said the new locations will each reflect the local character of its neighborhood, while staying true to CFG’s credo. “Our vision for all of our restaurants is first and foremost to take care of people,” said Filkins, “We feel as if we are inviting guests into our home. We want to bring something unique to each of the neighborhoods while being a strong part of each neighborhood's growth and identity.”—Collin Dreizen

Chef Marc Vetri Ventures to Japan

Pork chop–parmesan, bucatini and a side salad
Mr. Maurice’s Italian serves dishes like pork chop–parmesan and bucatini all'amatriciana. (Gorta Yuuki)

Philadelphia-based restaurateur Marc Vetri debuted Mr. Maurice’s Italian in the new Ace Hotel in Kyoto, Japan, on June 11. It’s Vetri’s first restaurant outside the United States, where his Vetri Cucina holds a Best of Award of Excellence for a 500-label wine list highlighting Italy and France.

With wood-fired pizzas and pasta dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana and gnocchi with duck ragù, Mr. Maurice’s Italian takes a more casual approach than Vetri Cucina’s multicourse tasting menu. There are about 30 wines available by the bottle and six available by the glass, covering an array of countries, including Austria, New Zealand and Argentina.

“Rather than focusing on any particular region, we pushed our energy into sourcing natural wines that would complement the menu,” said Susan Buckley, vice president of food and beverage for Ace Hotel Group, who built the list with assistant food and beverage director Ryuta Yamada. “There’s a healthy diversity of tones and types—we’re confident that anyone can find something they fall in love with within our natural wine selection.”—Emmalyse Brownstein

Longstanding SoHo Spot Aquagrill Closes

Aquagrill interior
Aquagrill occupied the same New York space since 1996. (Courtesy of Aquagrill)

After more than two decades in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, family-owned seafood destination Aquagrill has closed. According to co-owner Jennifer Marshall, who opened the restaurant with her husband, Jeremy, in 1996, the financial hardships and other challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic were too much to overcome.

“We are single-unit owner-operators who were dedicated to our employees, patrons and location,” Jennifer told Wine Spectator via email. “After 24 years of operation, we did not want to start again, dumb down, change our concept or operate in debt.”

The restaurant held an Award of Excellence since 1999 for its French-focused, moderately priced wine list of 125 selections. Jennifer oversaw the wine program, while Jeremy ran the kitchen, where virtually everything was made from scratch in-house, including breads, pastas and ice creams.—Julie Harans

Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro Closes on the Las Vegas Strip

Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro dining room
Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro’s coronavirus-related closure is no longer temporary. (Courtesy of Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro)

Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, in the Palazzo tower of the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, has permanently closed after 12 years in business. Wine director Alexandre Brard’s Best of Award of Excellence–winning wine program offered 600 selections with strengths in California and France, complementing a French-influenced steak-house menu.

Though restaurants on the Vegas Strip were permitted to reopen June 4 following months of coronavirus-related shutdowns, Morels owners Chipper Pastron, Sal Casola Jr. and Sal Casola Sr. made “the difficult decision” to shutter permanently, according to a statement shared with Wine Spectator.

“Unfortunately, these uncertain economic times brought on by COVID-19 have made it impossible to survive as an independent restaurant operator in a hotel with an estimated occupancy less than 50 percent for the foreseeable future,” the statement read. “We are so proud of what we’ve achieved at Morels with our team and are grateful for our loyal customers and their support over the years. We love Las Vegas and hope to find a new place when it’s the right time.”—E.B.

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