UTICA – In February 2020, Nostro Restobar and Lounge was rushing to an opening the following month, with the former Oneida National Bank on Genesee Street a hive of last-minute activity.

A month later, the opening was postponed indefinitely amid the halt in the coronavirus pandemic.

For owner Francis Pezzolanella, the closure was not a good thing, but it allowed him to take his time and assess how the Italian dining experience would go.

“It gave us time not to rush anything,” said Pezzolanella. “We were pushing very hard to open for this March. We were going to open up and it was going to happen, but there was still a lot that was going to be right in the wire. “

When Nostro opened on July 16, it was the culmination of a period of refinement as Pezzolanella focused on being able to do more with less.

“We have to find different ways to run this restaurant,” he said. “Get creative, change the menu to work even better for this type of environment, because we didn’t know what we were going to open up to again, and we kind of want to be prepared if that happens again. day. “

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Pezzolanella, who owns Ocean Blue Restaurant & Oyster Bar on Columbia Street and Rick’s Famous Juicy Burgers on Broad Street, said there were moments earlier in the pandemic when he thought Nostro might be able to open, only so that the cases increase again. He ultimately decided to wait until the restrictions were lifted to open the contemporary Italian restaurant built around food, drink and human interaction.

A fleet of food

An 11th hour idea before Nostro’s late opening gave him a signing experience – the Arsenale. Named in honor of the Arsenale di Venezia, the prolific shipyards of Venice’s pre-industrial era, it’s a tour of the whole menu.

While training staff on Nostro’s menu, Pezzolanella said most have never heard of the pasta dishes and other menu items. While the rigatoni Bolognese may be familiar, the bucatini all’Amatriciana bianca or the veal ravioli alla Piemontese may be less so.

Francis Pezzolanella, owner of Nostro Restobar and Lounge, Ocean Blue Restaurant & Oyster Bar and Rick's Famous Juicy Burgers.  Pezzolanella said there were moments earlier in the pandemic where he believed Nostro might be able to open, only for cases to rise again.  He finally waited for the restrictions to be lifted.

Thus, the Arsenale was created to take the guesswork out of restaurant customers; for a price, they could try anything.

“We just keep sending them food and let them try smaller portions of whatever’s on the menu,” Pezzolanella said. “We start with a selection from each category and give them the option to say, ‘Hey, I would like to try other pastas, or I would like to try other meats or other cheeses or I would like to try another. dessert until they are full.

The Arsenale is a fusion of Spanish tapas and Brazilian steakhouses, said Pezzolanella. The waiters give diners a brief interview on the items they absolutely want to try or avoid, and then the food begins to come out of the kitchen.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It allows our customers to truly embody the social experience because once they have this conversation, they relax and enjoy their business. They relax, socialize and we do the rest.

Pezzolanella recommends at least three people to face the fleet of dishes arriving at the table. Although the price is per person, everyone at the table must sign up for the Arsenale and its family-style menu items.

White Truffle Garlic Bread is one of the top favorites on the Nostro Restobar and Lounge starter menu.

The Arsenale also connects the family influence on Nostro. Pezzolanella’s mother is from northern Italy, where most of the food comes from, while her father is half Venetian.

“More of our customers are getting the Arsenale than not,” he said. “And I would say that with the majority of them, this is the only way to go. They’re very happy with what they’re getting, the value is there, and it’s a great way to experience things you wouldn’t normally try.

Bar and lounge

While the dining experience is a big draw, Nostro is not ignoring the other parts of its name.

Most of the cocktails on the menu are labor intensive, but the work is done ahead of time to get them out faster. They are also named after the famous Italian-American pop culture.

The My Cousin Vinny, for example, is a Stoli Doli martini. The pineapple, Dole in Doli, is infused into Stolichnaya vodka for five days in glass vats, then drained and refrigerated.

When someone orders the drink, it is shaken with ice and poured into a martini glass. The pineapple infusion cuts off the astringent flavor of the vodka, creating a light and sweet cocktail.

“So that allows us to give a really special cocktail that we can pull out really quickly,” said Pezzolanella. “The pandemic has really shown us that we need to learn to do more with less. “

However, it’s not just the drinks that bring the lounge vibe to Nostro. On Friday and Saturday nights, after the dinner service closes, the lights go out and a DJ arrives.

It transforms the old bank building into a party space focused on socializing and drinking twice a week. Pezzolanella said he’s planning events later in the year, using Nostro’s spacious main hall.

Local brand identity

With three restaurants located in Utica, Pezzolanella said it was a great time to be in town. He cited the progress and development of the downtown area, including the Mohawk Valley Health System Wynn Hospital, as a source of optimism.

Pezzolanella said her home business, Ocean Blue, is busier than it even has been. Rick’s Famous opened to crowds in January despite the pandemic.

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The opening of Nostro was overwhelmingly positive, said Pezzolanella. There were fewer hiccups than expected and the opening was much smoother than Ocean Blue in 2015.

The popular mural from the former Oneida National Bank is still on display in the restaurant.

“Nostro is a refinement of everything we’ve learned – good and bad – from Ocean Blue,” he said. “We have corrected all the mistakes we made with the facilities, staff and menu. All the things that we could have done differently, that we would have liked to have done differently at Ocean Blue, we have done them here.

Nostro Restobar and Lounge is located at 268 Genesee St. in Utica. It is open Tuesday to Thursday from 4.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4.30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Steve Howe is the town reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email him at showe@gannett.com.

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