Marc Vetri’s Italian Market pasta bar, Fiorella, is inching closer to opening. “Second, third week of January,” the chef said last week at a Fiorella preview at the Fitler Club (where the chef is culinary adviser). “We’re ready.”
There will only be 14 seats at the walk-in-only restaurant at 817 Christian St., where Fiorella Sausage stood for more than a century.
“Well, 12 really, because two will be mine,” Vetri said. He plans to earmark a two-top in the front window for family and friends, in an effort to avoid the inevitable: telling them they’ll have to wait.
The upside? The chef estimates that the average Fiorella dinner will take just 30 minutes — all the time needed to get salad, a plate of pasta, and a glass of wine to wash it down.
The idea of opening a pasta bar first came to Vetri a few years ago, during the fast-casual restaurant boom. Some pasta concepts had opened up, but “they were just pre-cooked noodles in sauce. I was thinking, ‘Well, we could make real good noodles in three minutes.’”
To test it, he staged a pop-up at the 12-seat counter in the upstairs space at Vetri — four pastas, three salads, wine by the glass. “They’ll just order, eat, and leave.”
He announced it at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning on Instagram. When he went out to have an espresso on the restaurant’s stoop later that afternoon, a line of 20 people had formed. By the time they opened the doors at 5:30 p.m., it had ballooned to 50. He told his staff, “Hey, let’s start the list, because there’s already an hour and a half wait.”
At the end of six hours, Vetri remembers, the pop-up had served about 144 people. “I couldn’t move my wrists. It was a three-hour wait at some point. I thought, ‘This has to be recreated somewhere.’”
The concept was put on the back burner while the restaurateur opened Vetri Cucina Las Vegas in the Palms Casino Resort. But when the Fiorella Sausage space was put on the market in 2018, Vetri made his move.
The ground-floor retail space was perfect, he said. “It’s like the same exact size as the upstairs at Vetri. It’s one long counter. I could stick a six-burner stove here, a pasta bar here. It’s perfect.”
Plus, he liked the idea of keeping the century-old sausage shop’s legacy intact, with the Fiorella family’s blessing. The pasta bar’s logo was inspired by the neon sign that marked the shop’s front window. And the family’s sausage recipe — which they shared with Primal Supply Meats, one of Vetri’s suppliers and business projects — also stars in what will be one of the pasta bar’s regular dishes: rigatoni with Fiorella sausage ragu.
The Locatelli-dusted rigatoni will be joined routinely by pillowy ricotta gnocchi and about four other rotating pasta dishes each night. “We’re going to have a stuffed, a hand-rolled, a long, an extruded — a mixture of whatever we want.”
He estimates pastas will run between $16 and $20, while appetizers (including the endive-radicchio salad with “ranchovy” dressing and the pork terrine with pickled vegetables served at the Fitler Club preview) will go for $14 to $18. There will be wine by the glass, beers on draft, barrel-aged cocktails, and a small bottle list.
Fiorella will be open for dinner Thursday through Sunday. Vetri plans to host special events — chef takeovers, wine dinners, pop-up farmers markets — in the space on its off days.