The 19th Avenue Italian restaurant has a new chef, a new bartender and a new concept. Well, kind of.
"There's still a big footprint of Italian cuisine," says David Nichols, who took over the kitchen at Ernest Loves Agnes a few weeks back. "But we're bringing in the flavors and profiles of the Mediterranean and North Africa—big bold spices." He's talking about cumin, paprika, and espelette, not to mention more octopus and merguez sausage.
When a restaurant's name refers to Ernest Hemingway's romantic entanglement with a nurse after being wounded on the Italian front, the cuisine can't move too far afield. When the neighborhood has taken a particular shine to your happy hour, pizza, and brunch menu, you can't fancy things up too much. Nichols has a bit of a tightrope to walk in making changes here, but on Thursday, he launches an entirely new menu, leaving no holdovers. He's particularly excited about the octopus terrine with nduja vinaigrette, and a pizza that sports porchetta, pesto, and broccoli rabe. Pizza by the slice will still surface at happy hour, he says, but so will beef crudo, lamb meatballs, and shrimp escabeche. Overall these new menus seem stripped of any vestiges of red sauce Italian-American food.
Nichols grew up on his family's farm in Cashmere and cooked in New York for 13 years, many within chef Marc Murphy's restaurant group. He spent eight months in Italy and a 10 more traveling and cooking everywhere from Australia to Turks and Caicos, and most recently was chef at Queen Anne Hall. "I wanted to take a bolder stance and take a few more risks," he says of ELA's previous menu. "But still keeping it with our mold of a neighborhood friendly Italian place. We want those people to come in and be wowed."
Ernest Loves Agnes owner Jason Lajeunesse is also installing a bit more "wow" factor at the bar, in the form of Veronika Groth, whose cocktail talents have been on display at Jerry Traunfeld's Poppy and Lionhead.
Unchanged: The space, one of the most atmospheric rooms (or pair of conjoined rooms, technically) you'll find in this town.