ITS GOURMET MENU AND RESERVATIONS ONLY WINE BAR MAKE VIOLETTE’S CELLAR A UNIQUE DESTINATION FOR STATEN ISLAND CONNOISSEURS
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
For a little more than a year, Peter Botros has been quietly luring Staten Island foodies to his chic underground restaurant with the promise of complex craft cocktails, lobster risotto, and a tomahawk ribeye made for sharing.
“We define it as a social dining experience,” Botros said recently, describing Violette’s Cellar, his understated, eclectic eatery that has created a significant buzz over the past 15 months. “Our menu features contemporary American small plates that the entire table should experience as a group. It’s not essentially family style, but the way it’s designed encourages guests to order together and get everyone at the table talking about the food.”
Located on Hylan Boulevard in the borough’s New Dorp section and set in the quaint basement site that formerly housed La Botte and then Troy, Violette’s Cellar features a chic underground design.
“The decor is eclectic, with an emphasis on repurposed materials,” Botros said while detailing the restaurant’s overhaul, which took about three months to complete. “We used a lot of reclaimed wood and recycled wine corks; we took old wooden wine boxes, broke them down, and used them as wall panels.”
The restaurant is lit by Edison bulbs, and the flooring is crafted out of decorative concrete that has been cut, polished, and stained. A separate, reservations only wine bar seats six and features its own wine paired dinner menu; a “speakeasy” called the Button Room is hidden behind a bookshelf.
“There’s a keypad on the door and a password is required for entrance,” Botros said. “We went with an old school vibe in there, lining the walls with mirrors from the Waldorf Astoria and designing a bar made out of buttons. That room has a completely separate cocktail list, each beverage a twist on a classic speakeasy beverage, just modernized.”
Craft cocktails flow in the main restaurant as well, and a well-balanced wine list is overseen by a full time sommelier.
“At Violette’s, we focus on putting a twist on all the classic cocktails,” noted Roberto Hernandez, the restaurant’s beverage director. “Our bar is also sustainable creating the least possible amount of waste and we employ innovative techniques of molecular mixology to create some very interesting drinks.”
The wine list is varied, representing a wide variety of regions. The bar’s most popular drinks include a Tepaché, made with mezcal, cognac, and fermented pineapple juice, and a Blackberry Basil Lemontini with muddled basil, blackberry jam, and fresh squeezed lemon.
“We’ve also been doing something called a Wine Academy, which is an interactive wine tasting event that we host either monthly or bimonthly,” Botros said. “Roberto devises the entire program; that’s where his expertise truly shines.”
But the fare all crafted and concocted by Botros himself is undoubtedly the star here.
“Everything is intricate and innovative, and if we do something traditional, it always has a twist,” Botros said, listing Artichoke Bread Pudding, Charred Spanish Octopus, Seared Ahi Tuna, and Chicken Pot Pie Empanadas as guest favorites. “Our Tomahawk Ribeye is dry aged and served with three different sauces wild mushroom, black truffle soy butter, and spicy peanut bechamel. Our Fried Calamari is served with pine nuts, lemon basil aioli, and fried basil.”
Chef Botros has earned a reputation on the Staten Island restaurant scene for doing things differently. After taking over the decades old Lake Club, renaming it The Stone House at Clove Lakes Park and completely reinventing the outdated space, the mortgage banker turned restaurateur wowed local foodies with The Chef’s Loft, a restaurant within a restaurant that routinely sells out its exclusive Saturday night seating, serving up monthly gourmet tasting menus sprinkled with Wagyu beef and crystallized cilantro salads. He also recently reinvented The Corner house, turning the longtime Grant City staple into a popular barbecue outpost.
At Violette’s Cellar, the overwhelming majority of the menu is small plates (a recommended order is two to four small plates per person), but there are also several large format dishes made for sharing.
“We do a great salmon, and there’s a spicy marinara sauce served over cavatappi pasta and topped with our signature meatballs,” Botros said. “They’re all great dishes for the entire table to share.”
There are also multiple event and party spaces within Violette’s Cellar; one dining area can accommodate as many as 160 guests.
“We can host intimate dinner parties for 15 people or larger gatherings for 65,” Botros said. “We will also have an outdoor dining space ready for this spring.”
But the majority of the restaurant’s guests during its first year in business have been groups looking to sit and socialize.
“Dinner here consists of several different experiences,” the chef said. “Guests start with cocktails at the bar, then eat in the main dining room, then often retreat to our Button Room for an after dinner drink.”
The restaurant, which has been active on social media (earning 4,000 Instagram followers in less than one month), has sold out every weekend since its grand opening.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Botros said. “I knew this concept would be successful, but I never thought that success would come so quickly.”
In April, Violette’s Cellar participated in the Food Network’s 25th anniversary party, and in October, the restaurant was featured in the NYC Wine and Food Festival. Botros also recently hosted a dinner at Violette’s for the James Beard Foundation. “This was the first time that the Foundation ever hosted an event on Staten Island, so it was a huge honor for them to host it here,” he said.
Doug Bifulco, COO and general manager of Violette’s Cellar, hopes to continue that success in 2019. “We had a very successful first year and are entering into our second with a lot of anticipation and excitement,” he noted. “There is a unique atmosphere here that people just seem to gravitate towards, and the food and presentation is simply out of this world. There is something for everyone on this menu.”
And because Botros and his partners have all been affected by cancer in some way, the restaurant also features a charity component.
“I am myself a cancer survivor, and my two partners both have parents who have survived cancer,” Botros said. “My mother, Violette, passed from cancer when I was just 14. Truth is, the disease is too prevalent here on Staten Island.”
So, Botros has pledged a quarter million dollars to Staten Island University Hospital’s comprehensive cancer center, which is currently in development.
“A portion of our profits will be donated to SIUH over the next seven years,” he concluded. “Everyone on Staten Island is greatly affected by this disease, so this is our way of giving back to our hometown borough.”
2271 Hylan Boulevard / 718.650.5050