Grazie a Dio. The long wait (and drive to Westchester) is over. Fortina is ready to rock in Stamford’s Harbor Point. Luigi Bianco Pizza, welcome to Connecticut!
Expecting to begin serving any day (as soon as they get their Certificate of Occupancy), partners John Nealon, Christian Petroni, and Rob Krauss invited CTBites to stop by for a sneak peek before the official opening.
Actually that debut won’t be so formal. Nothing soft. No Friends and Family. Not even a ribbon cutting. Just a sigh of relief. “When we open the doors, we’re open,” Nealon told us.
That’s because everything is set, the menu (almost identical to Armonk), the staff (many from Rye Brook and Armonk), the kitchen (the same wood fired ovens from Naples and charcoal grill from Spain) the playlist (specialized for Stamford’s millennials and empty nesters), and yes, hundreds of those familiar San Marzano cans just waiting to boost their pizza trays with a luscious Luigi Bianco. The whimsy is waiting.
When the doors do swing open, diners will enter a soaring, 28 foot high space, divided into three levels that frame different dining activities. The eye is initially drawn to the first floor bar and lounge, a vast pre-prandial playground. A dining area of tables and banquets extends to the right. Perched a tier above, cooks will work their magic in the open kitchen while a festive dinner party feasts at the Chef’s table. Another level up, in their own private aerie, lovers can dine, gazing into each other’s eyes or scanning the colorful spectacle below.
The setting seems theatrical, with newcomers entering at the proscenium, immediately welcomed into the diverse culinary show taking place in the orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony. Bob Fosse would approve. So would Bruegel.
We wondered how to categorize the dialectical design and off-beat hues (inspired by Instagram). With concrete floors and exposed infrastructure, a first impression labels the Fortina space as Modern Industrial. But warm woods and ample banquets (hand-crafted by Petroni’s father) evoke the mood of a lazy Sunday afternoon family dinner. Industrial, yes, yet Homey too.
The motif also navigates between Uber Hip and Super Camp. Take Fortina’s sly salute and quirky send-up of the celebrity picture walls found in New York’s old school Italian and Chinese restaurants. The black and white “autographed” photos feature the firmament of stars who have partied at Fortina -- long before it opened. The big names range from Elvis to Bill Murray – and maybe a Connecticut rock star chef. Ed Koch would approve.
Counterpoint is themed in everywhere. One unvarnished wall of the restaurant remains true to the original structure when the partners moved in. However, the flat monochrome is off-set by a quadtych of an Octopus, a riot of colors and frozen motion. (And maybe a nod to the denizens of the deep in nearby Long Island Sound).
While the restaurant does not look out on that sea, the views will be breathtaking on Fortina’s spectacular rooftop restaurant, especially at night when Harbor Point’s new skyline is aglow under the stars. Though still under construction, the space seems an al fresco version of the restaurant below, replete with an outdoor kitchen and Fortina’s signature hand painted tiles.
Therein lies an endearing story. The original subway tiling at Armonk was installed by one of Christian’s best friends from high school, who worked as a mason during the day, and learned to cook at Fortina at night -- sometime into morning. He soon gave up his day job, choosing to hone his craft in the kitchen. In honor of his devotion, drive and talent, the partners named their award winning pizza, the Luigi Bianco, after him.
And now Luigi Bianco is not just the most popular Pizza on the Menu, he is also Chef de Cuisine at Fortina, Stamford.
Bon Appitito, Luigi, Fortina, and Stamford. Let the party begin. (No more waiting, except for a table.)
Fortina 22 Washington Boulevard, Stamford @Harbor Point