If you live or work on East 44th Street, it’s very likely that you’ve already been treated to the gracious hospitality of Fabio Hakill and Nick Nubile, owners of the new Italian restaurant Fabio Piccolo Fiore, which opens officially today. To ingratiate themselves to the neighborhood and work out the inevitable pre-opening kinks, chef Fabio served complimentary lunches and dinners all last week, putting his jacketed captains and polished waiters through their truffled-risotto-spooning paces. After serving a ten-year stint at Corona’s legendary Park Side, Hakill, a half-Sicilian, half-Egyptian native of Rome, hopes to make as many fans in midtown Manhattan as he did in the Queens dining room where he met Nubile, the contractor who would become his business partner, and general manager Steve Danz, who left a career in TV sports production to run Fabio’s front of the house.
In a city of upscale Italian restaurants, what makes Fabio’s different? Plenty, according to Danz, who’s eaten in most of them. When he was producing for the Mets, Danz says, Hakill kept the Park Side kitchen open late for him and his team, “even when they went into extra innings, and it was one in the morning, and we were the only ones there.” Hakill takes great pride in pleasing the customer, honoring any off-menu request. “I didn’t really believe him,” says Danz, “so I’d order a salad with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and crabmeat, and ask for it chopped. Or whole-wheat pasta. Or a taste of salmon, and red snapper, and swordfish, all on the same plate.” Hakill always obliged, to Danz’s amazement. “You go to Primola’s, you can’t get it. You go to Elio’s, you can’t get it. The chef can’t do it, the chef can’t do it, they’d always say. Fabio took the opposite approach. He can do anything.”
You can take that as a challenge. Or you can just order off the streamlined menu, which, like the red-walled room itself, seems a bit fancier, a bit more northern Italian than the red-sauce-centric Park Side. But if your heart’s set on tomato sauce or something parmigiana, Hakill isn’t about to turn you down. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
Fabio Piccolo Fiore, 230 E. 44th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-922-0581.