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New Bonita Restaurant Features Star Chef Michael Psilakis

Teatro offers up unique cuisine from the Michelin-starred chef

BY November 4, 2016

When Brien Spina set out to build the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center, he knew he needed a show-stopping schedule for the main stage. But he also wanted major star power for the stand-alone on-site restaurant, Teatro, that would be open daily for lunch and dinner.

Nothing short of a page from a script, a chance viewing of a Food Network show led him to approach Michael Psilakis, a Michelin-starred, New York-based Greek-American chef who had just opened a restaurant and entertainment venue in Brooklyn. After their first meeting, Psilakis says he felt an immediate “kinship” with Spina and they got to work.

For his part, Psilakis rose to prominence in the early millennium. He struck a chord with his modernist interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine that honored his ancestral home and its western neighbor, with hits ranging from the upscale-casual Mia Dona to his former flagship of avant garde Greek cooking, Anthos (which received a Michelin star and helped him rack up praise from Food & Wine, The New York Times, Bon Appétit and the James Beard Foundation).

Here the framework of the menu is Italian: from pizzas and pastas to parmigianas and piccatas. But a closer inspection reveals some ingenious plot twists. Meatballs carry strong notes of oregano; lamb chops are foiled by a honeyed yogurt; and a sea bass dressed with tomatoes and olives feels like it could be found on Santorini.

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“I can’t help weaving Greek into the menu. It’s a part of me,” says Psilakis, whose second cookbook, Live to Eat, will be published in January. “That defines my food in general. I blur the lines, but I think it works. It makes the menu a lot more interesting to have little deviations that are familiar but not out of place.”

Teatro, with not one but two glass-tiled bars and sky-high ceilings, is the definition of dramatic. And although almost nothing tops $30, Psilakis and Spina were determined to keep the quality up. Take his signature gnudi (ricotta gnocchi) in a black truffle sauce. He spent weeks tracking down the right cheese to get them fluffier than wisps of cotton. “One of the most difficult parts of the opening of the Bonita restaurant was sourcing ingredients. That dish requires fresh ricotta—not Polly-o, nothing commercial. It has to be straight from a farm,” he says.

Psilakis appreciates how Teatro has unfolded. “The food that we’re doing, I hope, embodies more of the identity of bringing people together, sharing a meal, sharing a conversation, sharing a memory.”


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