Julian Gaxholli, the brains behind both Bayou and Beso, takes his culinary dream to the waterfront
Julian Gaxholli was shopping at an antique shop in Queens when he stumbled upon a gorgeous set of Gothic doors. “They had this great rounded shape that was really inspiring,” the restaurant owner noted. “So I purchased them without even knowing where they would go.”
More than a year and a couple of major renovations later, the set now serves as the gateway to the courtyard at Blue, Gaxholli’s posh Livingston eatery which has been inspiring diners since May with its revival décor, expansive views, and Mediterranean/Asian cuisine.
“Naturally, the view dominated this space,” Gaxholli said of Blue’s Richmond Terrace address, which formerly housed longtime water- front staple R.H. Tugs, where regulars dined for more than 20 years.
“So when we started renovations last October, we knew we had to take advantage of the geography of this location.”
So, Gaxholli opened up the walls and created a floor-to-ceiling glass division instead, then framed ten windows in the dining room with custom rounded cherry wood molding that matched the shape and style of his Gothic door find.
“The whole idea behind R.H. Tugs was that you could sit in the dining room and watch the tugboats go by,” Gaxholli explained. “We wanted to keep that same design, open the view up further, and really enhance the landscape of that Kill Van Kull waterway. We also drew upon the inspiration of the Livingston neighborhood and its Snug Harbor surroundings, using a lot of bluestone material as our base.”
In terms of the menu, Gaxholli, who owns two other North Shore culinary hotspots (Bayou and Beso) wanted to keep things different.
“Blue’s menu is Mediterranean with an Asian flare,” said Gaxholli. “There’s a lot of original dishes but it was very important for me to keep each restaurant unique. We overlap in quality and service, but we definitely do not overlap in flavor.”
That’s why Bayou’s Cajun-Creole inspired menu and Beso’s Latin-infused Tapas differ greatly from what Gaxholli cooks up at Blue.
“There’s really no particular theme here,” he said. “While the other restaurants are very defined, I feel like the food at Blue covers the whole spectrum. And I think that alone separates us from the mainstream.”
To that end, Blue’s menu includes appetizers like avo- cado mushroom carpac- cio, sprinkled with truffle cheese and “perfumed” with just a hint of truffle oil. Goat cheese wontons with a ginger lime Thai chili caramel sauce add to the Asian flare, while Portuguese octopus, grilled and dressed with lemon parsley sauce and served with a petite salad of Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, and mint contributes to what Gaxholli defines as the restaurant’s more “playful” boundaries.
“I like to go off the beaten path sometimes and offer something like frogs’ legs,” the chef said, smiling. (They are pan fried and served with smoked paprika, garlic, and a lemon thyme sauce.) “That’s why I can’t really say that the food at Blue follows one solid ethnic direction. We’re definitely not pegged on one particular theme.”
According to Gaxholli, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include a mixed grill for two featuring seasoned jumbo blue prawns, lamb loin chops, dry jumbo sea scallops, and apple sausage, all served with lemon-cucumber Tzatziki and rose- mary garlic sauce.
The menu is thick—six pages in all—and therein are options—almost too many of them—ranging from per- fectly seared rib eyes to seven varieties of salad, a bouilla- baisse, and a steamed chili broth seafood pot. There’s also satay and spring rolls, sashimi, and a wasabi-pea crusted Ahi tuna. Lemonade martinis, Asian mojitos, and four types of sake round out the cocktail offerings.
For dessert, there’s fudge, and even more wontons, in this case stuffed with Nutella. “You really can’t find too many places that will put Nutella in a wonton,” Gaxholli said with a laugh. Windows are draped in red satin curtains, sturdy hand carved oak tables are weathered in all the right places, and the wall space not interrupted by windows is splashed and sponge-painted in a bright golden hue.
Gaxholli hopes to expand his dining space next spring to include several outdoor tables, but right now is focusing on a partnership with Snug Harbor’s organic farm.
“We’re using mostly all locally grown produce and feature all of the most fresh, seasonal items in our specials,” Gaxholli said. “Right now, it’s a lot of heirloom tomatoes, Thai basil, and rosemary. It’s a great partnership, and I love featuring all of those fresh ingredients on my menu.”
For Gaxholli, it’s all about creating the perfect experience for each and every one of his patrons.
“I want people to walk away from their meal, loving every bit of what they tasted,” he concluded. “And for me, that, too, is really what makes us unique.”
Photos By Mike Reiss