At MoPho, Michael Gulotta turned his infatuation with Vietnamese cuisine into a modern, chef-led neighborhood restaurant.
Now the chef has a new project in the works more closely related to his first love: Italian cooking.
Gulotta and his business partners in MoPho will lease the kitchen at Trèo, the cocktail bar, art gallery and eatery on Tulane Avenue. The new concept is called Tana, after a family nickname for the chef’s grandmother. They expect to open Jan. 8.
Tana’s menu will be based on regional Italian flavors, guided by the time Gulotta spent training in Italy as a younger chef and by his own family heritage.
“I’m from a Sicilian family, but the Sicilian cuisine we have here became heavier,” he said. “In Sicily, it’s lighter, more of a coastal cuisine. I want to go back to that, fresh seafood, well-made pastas and sauces.”
Some examples from Tana’s initial menu include cured tuna with melon salad; grilled long-stem broccolini; busiate (or corkscrew pasta) with charred octopus and a ragu of boudin noir; malfatti pasta dumplings made with Creole cream cheese and finished with local caviar; thin-crusted caramelized onion tarts; and trenette noodles with clams and chile peppers.
Pastas will be made in house. Tana will serve cheese plates as well. “We want these dishes to be easy to share, something you’re able to dig into, and that pair well with the great cocktails they make there,” Gulotta said.
A New Orleans native, Gulotta runs his restaurant company with his brother Jeff Gulotta and their high school friend Jeffrey Bybee. He said they’d been developing the Tana concept for a while and were looking for the right spot to test it out when the Trèo deal emerged.
Trèo’s owners, Pauline and Stephen Patterson, also run the nearby Finn McCool’s Irish Pub, and this will be their second collaboration with the MoPho group.
In March, the Gulotta brothers and Bybee opened Rum & the Lash in the tavern kitchen inside Finn McCool’s, serving a pub grub menu based around burgers, a righteous chicken sandwich, MoPho’s signature lemongrass and ginger chicken wings, corned beef poutine and fish and chips.
“We’ve seen what they can do at Finn’s and it’s been brilliant,” said Pauline Patterson. “We think this is a really good fit for Trèo and a good fit for Mid-City, because there’s no one doing Italian food like this here now.”
Michael Gulotta made his name during a six-year run as chef de cuisine at Restaurant August, the elegant John Besh flagship.
He and his partners created MoPho as a much more casual eatery and opened early in 2014.
That was around the same time that Trèo made its own debut as part of a wave of redevelopment along Tulane Avenue.
Once a rickety old barroom, the building was remodeled with a contemporary design, a second floor art gallery and events hall, a large kitchen and a side patio that now has its own bocce ball court.
The multifaceted space opens up new possibilities for the MoPho group too.
“We get asked to do private events at MoPho a lot, but we don’t have a room there. (At Trèo), we can do dinners upstairs by MoPho, by Tana or whatever we want,” Gulotta said.
Trèo initially served a tapas-style menu that grew to include more substantial entrees. Its first chef, James Cullen, departed around this time last year, though Trèo’s menu style remained largely the same. It will still serve that menu until the end of the year.
Trèo will close for a week after New Year’s Eve and reopen Jan. 8 with Tana in place.
Gulotta described MoPho as homebase for his small but growing restaurant company, and he said he’s hopeful that Tana will be another hook for recruiting and developing up-and-coming chefs. It could also be the test case for something bigger in the future.
“If all goes well, this is the concept we’d like to do another brick-and-mortar restaurant with,” he said.
Tana will parallel Trèo’s hours, which are now Tuesday through Thursday, 4-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.