Interview: Chef Franco Sampogna of NYC Speakeasy Restaurant, Frevo

Inventive contemporary French cuisine tucked behind an art gallery in Greenwich Village

If one subscribes to the belief that a meal can tell a story, the first dish within the tasting menu at Frevo sets the tone for a romance. Each frequently shifting seasonal tasting menu consists of five courses: two appetizers, one meat and fish course, and then a dessert. Each dish includes ingredients of the utmost freshness, assembled with passion. Chef Franco Sampogna, general manager Bernardo Silva and sommelier Quentin Vauleon continuously collaborate on this particular style of reinvented contemporary French cuisine, and each plate and pairing carries as much  excitement as it does beauty.

Frevo can be accessed through a door hidden behind a painting within an art gallery in Greenwich Village that features the work of Toma-L. It is, in fact, the Frevo team’s gallery and curatorial work. Beyond, guests find a quartzite chef’s counter that seats 18 and a private chef’s table with room for six. It’s a novel experience at first that gives way to something elegant, meticulous and minimal. Further, with the tasting menu at $124 per person (with wine pairing $84 more), it’s more accessible than expected. Chef Sampogna’s menu exceeds expectation with surprises defining the narrative. Born in Brazil, he trained at three Michelin-starred restaurants in France before opening his own in NYC. From the out-of-the-ordinary wine list to insight on ingredients headed to the menu, chef Sampogna shares his thoughts with us below.

by Eric Laignel

How does the art gallery facade represent the restaurant hiding behind it?

The art gallery is our way of making this a NYC restaurant with charm and a touch of rock’n’roll. The idea actually came later on, when we first found the location, the space was too large for what we had envisioned, and we had to think of a way to use that extra space so that we could keep the dining area more confined and cozy. We were all very excited when we thought of the idea for the art gallery. The concept of the restaurant has a lot to do with our appreciation for art, mainly in the sense that we wanted to incorporate this  theme into the diners’ experience. The gallery is a way for the diner to experience Frevo before they even walk into the restaurant. It’s a way to give them a unique experience that stays with them even after they leave, too.

by Jason Roth

You maximize environment, but minimize capacity so that it never feels overcrowded. How did you determine how many people you would seat? What decisions did you make to control the environment?

We worked alongside the designers to have a place with a more European standard when it came to sitting customers. We knew we didn’t want people elbow to elbow, but we also didn’t want too much space between them. We also had to make sure we used comfortable chairs that are relaxing to sit it.

Altogether, you’ve found a balance between international flair and NYC energy. How are you bringing this together? 

This was definitely a team effort. My business partner Bernardo Silva and I worked very closely to make sure the restaurant had a relaxed atmosphere with music and dimmed lights, but we also didn’t want it to overshadow the actual food experience. It was a hard balance to find, but in the end we were able to create what we had envisioned.

by Charissa Fay

How do you approach the development of your tasting menu each season?

We always try to follow the seasons. Some dishes are amazing during their peak time of year, but you have to let it go eventually and move onto the next best produce. This is what guides our menu and inspires the changes we make to it.

How do you keep people excited about a menu in a city where someone can find just about everything?

I think you have to always reinvent yourself and cook great food. People recognize quality and it makes them want to come back.

by Eric Laignel

As we head into winter, are there ingredients you’re excited to incorporate or that we could potentially expect?

Since it is white truffle season I would have to go with the white truffle, which we serve with an egg. This pairing is classic, but always good.

by Charissa Fay

Have you had a favorite dish on your menu thus far?

The dish that has been with us from the beginning and we love is the Halibut that is cooked on top of a bread with a braised fennel. It surprises everybody.

by Eric Laignel

Can you talk about the wine program and how it aligns with your menu?

The wine program is run by Quentin Vauleon, our sommelier who won Best Young Sommelier in France [in 2017]. The wine list is much like our menu in that it focuses on quality instead of quantity. Although we don’t specify [on the menu] 95% of the producers are organic like our food menu. We always keep Quentin informed on which new dishes we are working on so he can pair it with the perfect wine.

Hero image by Charissa Fay