After months of speculation about the year-long closure of the popular restaurant overlooking Little Bay in Bayside, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and restaurateur Georgio Kolaj sat down for an exclusive interview with The Queens Courier, to put the rumors to rest.
Actual construction is about to begin on the former Caffé on the Green and after months – and roughly $100,000 in design work – it will open as Valentino’s “in the spring” as a destination restaurant to make Queens proud.
“We completed the final filing this week,” said Kolaj on Wednesday, December 9. “I want to make it clear that the Department of Buildings and the Parks Department have been most helpful,” he added.
“All construction projects on city-owned property have to be approved by the Design Commission,” Lewandowski explained. “Nothing could go forward until they approved the designs,” she added
Established in 1898 as the Art Commission and renamed in 2008, the mayoral agency is composed of 11 unpaid members and only meets once a month. It has one architect, landscape architect, painter and sculptor; the rest are from museums and the New York Public Library.
Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the thorniest problem, Kolaj and Lewandowski agreed. An elevator had to be installed, landings and ramps widened and other changes made, “without substantial change to the outside.” It took several tries to get a plan that worked, they said.
Kolaj interviewed six architects and settled on two – one for the exterior and grounds and another for the interior of Valentino’s.
“The changes to the outside are so subtle as to go unnoticed,” Lewandowski said. Other than a slight change to a roof line and widening the entrance ramp “instead of individual window awnings, they will be continuous; it’s a pleasing look,” she said.
Inside, Kolaj has promised to retain and surpass the experience that a generation of customers was used to. “It was a well-run restaurant that served good food. We called in many of the old staff for interviews; some, including the banquet manager will be there, so there will be continuity.”
“I want everybody to know that this will be a fine restaurant both in food and décor. We’re spending many times what the original proposal called for [$860,000]. If Rudolf Valentino walked in, he’d be proud,” Kolaj said.
Indeed, Chef-partner Don Pintabona, the 12-year executive chef at the Tribeca Grill, will be the culinary face of Valentino’s to “meet and surpass the remembered dining experience – at the same price point,” Kolaj said. “We have a wine consultant trained in Florence, Italy and in Napa, CA; we expect to have a very extensive list, much of which will be in our ‘wine wall,’” he said.
“I promise we’ll keep the public informed,” Kolaj said.