A new ‘beginning’

Fettucine with kale and mushrooms.
Photograph by Bill Milne. Courtesy L’Inizio
Fettucine with kale and mushrooms. Photograph by Bill Milne. Courtesy L’Inizio

It’s fair to say that Scott Fratangelo’s marriage proposal was among the coolest ever.

“It was so awesome,” says wife Heather, “so creative and so well thought out.”

Scott, you see, proposed to Heather in the walk-in refrigerator of Union Square Café in Manhattan. He, a graduate of the New York Institute of Technology, had been the sous chef there. She, a graduate of The French Culinary Institute, had worked at the café and done an externship there.

They first laid eyes on each other inside that refrigerator at the end of the last century. Four years later, having moved on in their careers, Scott arranged for the café to hide a bottle of Champagne and a couple of glasses in the walk-in, where he popped the question and then the cork.

After some 10 years, one restaurant (Spigolo in Manhattan) and two daughters (ages 7 and 5), Scott and Heather became the team behind L’Inizio in Ardsley, which opened Jan. 24. The name, appropriately enough, means “beginning.” It’s a small (55-seat), rustic place with vibrant food paintings by Marilyn Sommer. But if the food and the service are any indication, L’Inizio won’t remain small for long.

We arrive on a Friday night and are warmly greeted by Heather, the pastry chef, who’s at the front of the house then and Saturday nights as well. Our excellent waitress, Alexandria Szalkowski – the entire wait staff is charming – starts us off with a couple of L’Inizio’s barrel cocktails, so-called because the spirits – like the bourbon for the house’s “211” Larceny Old Fashioned, which also includes Aperol liqueur and an orange peel – are aged in charred oak barrels for two weeks. The Autumn Cider cocktail – made with Applejack, rum, lemon juice and cinnamon – is like a liquid slice of apple pie à la mode , contrasting nicely with crispy, thin, cheese-flavored breadsticks and a soft, flavorful ciabatta bread, all homemade.

For appetizers, we savor a salad of celery and green apple, Medjool dates, walnuts and gorgonzola dolce; a smooth fettuccine with wild mushrooms, kale and Parmigiano; and a chicken liver pâté, with crisp crostini, sage and rhubarb chutney, all excellent. But the standout here for me is a zesty house-made pork sausage with braised Romano beans, roasted tomato and preserved lemon – the kind of dish your grandmother might’ve made (if grandma were a five-star chef).

The quickly devoured entrées – including the spiced Long Island duck breast with cauliflower purée, romensco, Gaeta olives and lingonberry; and a tangy crabmeat risotto – reflect Scott’s desire to use seasonal ingredients and draw on his relationship with regional sources, likes Blooming Hill Farm, Fazio Farms, Sprout Creek Farm and Sycamore Farms. (The delectable John Dory fish special is accented with chanterelle mushrooms, charred corn from Sycamore Farms and Blooming Hill Farm mustard greens.)

“I do love to use farms and being up here that’s been the main thing,” he says. “I love putting their produce on the table.”

But he’s also realistic about the whole farm-to-table movement, particularly in the Northeast winters: “When we can do it, we do it.”

Sated though we are, we are glad we saved room for Heather’s desserts, including a warm apple crisp with vanilla semifreddo; a date pudding cake with sweet mascarpone and citrus; and a light yet creamy pumpkin cheesecake with Prosecco caramel, cranberries and pumpkin seed brittle. Since Heather is the pastry chef and Scott, the executive chef, the pair complement each other. She’s usually finished in the kitchen as he’s getting started. That complementary quality holds for temperament as well.

“She’s easier-going than I am,” says Scott. “There has to be that give-and-take.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Heather is shy about how her creations are presented.

“She’ll come into the kitchen and say, ‘Nah,’” Scott says with a laugh.

With Scott in the kitchen six days a week – the restaurant is closed on Mondays – the lion’s share of the parenting falls to Heather, who is frank about being a woman trying to do it all.

“It’s extremely difficult,” she says. “I find it hard to give myself completely to everything. But it will get easier. It’s new and it’s about getting into a groove.”

What helps, she adds, is her and her husband’s ability to “leave (the restaurant) at work. Then it’s all new at home.”

“It’s a real juggling act,” Scott adds. “But any business requires a ton of attention until you get a team in place.”

Scott envisions an expanded staff and floor plan, with a big bar.

(One of the things he and Heather love to do on their rare nights out is to dine at a bar.)

And perhaps a walk-in fridge like the one at Union Square Café? Scott says L’Inizio has a nice walk-in fridge, adding with a laugh, “but not as romantic.”

L’Inizio is at 698 Saw Mill Road, Ardsley. 914-693-5400, liniziony.com.

 

FENNEL SAUSAGE RAGU

  • 1 1/2 pounds fennel sausage
  • 1 cup small diced carrots
  • 1 cup small diced onions
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 quarts marinara sauce
  • 1 quarter cup olive oil
  • A pinch of chili flakes

Prepare a pot on medium heat with blended oil. Remove sausage from casing and break it up. Begin to brown the sausage meat in the hot pot. Remove the meat and place carrots, onion and garlic in the pot on low heat until they’re soft and translucent. Next, add fresh tomatoes, softening them.

Return meat to pot and cover surface with white wine. Add chili flakes and reduce heat by half. Add marinara to the pot. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Add sauce to cooked pasta.

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