For many, the effusive, air-kissing Valter Nassi was the heart and soul of Cucina Toscana. Whether you loved him or loathed him (but most people loved him), Valter personified the restaurant.
Most assumed he owned the joint.
So his departure was a surprise, and raised a lot of questions. I answered many in yesterday's post, but the question of what Valter is up to remained, so I stopped by 173 W. Broadway, the old Metropolitan space, to get it from the horse's mouth.
I found Valter, nattily dressed as always (linen trousers, yellow vest, necktie) holding court in the middle of a construction site. He has had the space completely gutted, though the gorgeous arched roof, windows and open kitchen remain. Hands gesturing wildly, he took me on a tour of the imaginary new trattoria, to be called Walter's. ("With a "w"", he says. "Everyone say it that way anyway.")
The sunken space at the back will become a private dining room. The front bar space will be enlarged, into a kind of salumeria/wine bar and a real cappuccino bar. And the restaurant proper will seat 70 people, a number Valter feels is more comfortable than the nearly 300 that could be crammed into Cucina Toscana at its larget. "I am not old," said Valter. "But I was tired. I am the crazy man, the electric man, I don't know how to do things halfway."
A smaller space will be easier to handle. But he gets a little emotional when he talks about leaving Cucina Toscana. "I was there 11 years. You can't cancel 11 years of your life. My recipes are still there. My spirit was there." Still, he insists the split from Cucina's owner Ken Millo was amicable and that they've agreed to eat pasta together once a month, alternatinb between Cucina and Valter's new place.
When he talks about the new restaurant, he talks a lot about simple. Simple, like a real Tuscan trattoria. Rotisserie and grilled meats. Grilled vegetables. A table where you can just eat whatever the chef sends out. This will be the restaurant he has always dreamed of, an homage to his roots in Monte San Savino and his mother's cooking.
His partners in the new venture are the Victor Lund family, the same people who brought him to Utah in the first place to open San Savino in American stores.
So the new restaurant, slated to open in November, is a reunion of sorts, says Chandler Lund, who dropped by the restaurant space while I was there.
And she wasn't the only one–four other people wandered in to say hi to Valter and find out what he is up to now.