ROÌA Restaurant Opens in New Haven: A First Taste

Cindy Papish Gerber

As “Grand Openings” of restaurants go, this one was as grand as they come.  A crowd of lucky invitees, including members of the press, city officials, business, university leaders, tastemakers, foodies, area restaurateurs, friends and family gathered around Executive Chef Avi Szapiro, to watch him cut the ceremonial ribbon.  At promptly 5:00 pm on Wednesday, March 27th, in New Haven ROÌA Restaurant officially opened its doors.

After several months of research, demolition plus an additional six months of meticulous renovation, this venerated, but neglected 101 year old space, which once housed the dining room of the Taft Hotel was finally reborn.

ROÌA, named after a river that flows between France and Italy, has been buffed, primed, renovated into a glistening Beaux-Arts jewel of a restaurant with a decidedly modern tilt by Szapiro and his lovely wife, Meera.  The couple, who moved here in 2011 from Brooklyn (where else?) have truly left no stone unturned in their mission to revamp this historic landmark: uncovering original mosaic-tile marble flooring, reclaiming white oak walls, buffing woodwork, installing red leather banquettes, restoring flourishes and medallions on the ornate plaster ceiling and moving (yes, moving!) the soaring dramatic staircase.  While descending or descending these “storied” treds, patrons can reenact their very own “Hello Dolly!” moment. (At least I did.)

Elegance aside, the gilded finishes and grand scale of ROÌA does not intimidate.  Somehow, Avi and Meera have applied just the right touches to create a warm, welcome ambiance.  While perfectly suited for any special occasion dinner, meeting a friend for a casual meal, dining solo at the bar, or enjoying a light pre or après theatre nibble (the historic Shubert is only steps away) would be totally in sync with ROÌA’s vibe

Chef Avi Szapiro has created a nuanced, carefully researched menu which draws from French and Italian traditions while highlighting the seasonal bounty of New England.  Born in Bogota, Colombia, his Culinary Institute of America training, combined with years of experience cooking and consulting across the U.S., Europe and Asia definitely came through on opening night.

Swoon-worthy canapés--including spoonfuls of warm marinated leek with butternut squash puree, ahi tuna rimmed with fennel and perfectly seared steak with salsa verde were eagerly gobbled up.  Trays of their house cocktail, “The Taft” (liquore strega, luxardo maraschino, ginger syrup, lemon served on the rocks), were passed out by nimble servers. The upstairs bar buzzed with activity.

Highlights from ROÌA’s regular dinner menu, such as Raw Stonington Fluke with toasted pine nuts and truffle lime vinaigrette, Homemade Rosemary and Black pepper pappardelle with hen ragu, castelvetrano olives and marjoram, Grilled Branzino served whole with roasted seasonal vegetables and salsa verde sound fabulous.  Specialty desserts include house made sorbettos and gelatos as well as a Lemon Tart. 

“Most restaurant projects start with a concept and then find a space that will serve it.  With ROIA it was the other way around,” offers Meera Laube Szapiro.  “Avi created a restaurant concept that would honor this architectural gem built in 1912.” 

Judging by the “oohs”, “ahhs”, approving nods and wide-eyed expressions of delight from everyone in attendance at ROÌA’s opening, this restaurant is destined for success.

[Photography courtesy ofMeghan Capozzi Rowe of MEC images ]

ROIA Restaurant

261 College St - New Haven CT - 203.200.7045

Roia on Urbanspoon