Local Sicilian-born Chef Vincenzo Betulia has become to Naples what vino has always been to the French-Italian cuisine – a perfect pair that continues to satisfy and reinvent the dining experience.
And for the third time in four years, he has prepared a treat for 5th Avenue South: The French – Naples’ first traditional French brasserie – opening Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Located at 365 5th Avenue South, Chef Vincenzo – who owns Osteria Tulia (voted Best Restaurant locally two out of three years by Naples Illustrated) and Bar Tulia, both nestled on Naples’ Main Street – held a private concierge event Wednesday night featuring his new restaurant, providing an exclusive sneak peek.
General Manager Rick Rinella took the floor first, standing upon freshly placed black and white patterned mosaic floors and surrounded by original hand painted murals, large antique mirrors, custom embossed tin ceilings and red leather banquettes.
“There’s a couple of things I’ve really learned since I’ve been here,” he addressed the crowd, which had been mingling and taste-testing complimentary hors d’oeuvres.
“Just the absolute love and attention to detail and the food and the drinks and how they intertwine – there’s nothing like that in this town. You’re hard-pressed to find any one of these restaurants where you’ll see a chef/owner here every night, on the line, looking at the food, coaching and teaching…it is absolutely magnificent.”
With The French, that’s what visitors can come to expect under Betulia’s watch.
An eatery born to imitate New York’s Balthazar restaurant, also a French brasserie, Chef Vincenzo hopes to mimic what the 25-year-old Manhattan establishment offers its guests while also continuing to elevate Naples’ very own downtown dining scene.
“I got pregnant with this concept,” he related, drawing a playful laugh.
“We’ve [he and his wife Anna Betulia, Restaurant Manager] have been going to New York for a long time and one of the most quintessential restaurants was Balthazar. When you walk in this bustling, passionate, soulful space, it just takes the breath out of you. There’s people bumping into you, staff everywhere, the kitchen is essentially in a dining room like it is here. It is so energetic, and that’s what we built this to be.”
With 230 indoor seats and an outdoor bistro, The French is designed to deliver a welcoming but intimate atmosphere like it’s influential predecessor, which was ranked the second best French brasserie in all of New York City by Zagat in 2013.
Chef Vincenzo envisions capturing a similar ambiance within his new walls, in his own city, where he moved to 17 years ago and opened his first restaurant in 2013.
“I’m in a business of passion. I’m in a business of soul. I lose sleep because I want to be perfect and I want to please everybody. [With The French] we wanted to build a classic yet contemporary style French restaurant that’s not so scary to come in and eat, so when you walk in you feel that vibe and that energy,” the visionary offered.
Here to stay in Naples, Chef Vincenzo continues to single-handedly reshape the local dining scene while fulfilling his lifelong dream, which all began on 5th Avenue South.
The French appears to be his next masterpiece, just down the street from the rest.
“We’re [Naples] so known for our beaches. We’re so known for our weather. We’re so known for some great things,” Chef Vincenzo Betulia cherished. “And our dining scene, we really wanted to elevate it, go the extra mile and draw a line in the sand.”
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