The new concept from La Tavola's owners features a fresh oyster bar.
Chef Rick Lopez of La Tavola in Grandview was hoping to open his new restaurant, Lupo, by the New Year. Opening a restaurant is never a simple thing, and Lopez and his wife, Krista, have weathered their share of new launches. The couple owned Knead in the Short North (now closed), and they are on their third iteration of La Tavola. But chef Lopez says Lupo, which means wolf in Italian, has been the toughest to get off the ground.
“When I was young and getting into this career, I wish that there was somebody to mentor me on how to open my own restaurant and give me a chance,” he says. “Especially in this town you have to have a big bankroll, and it's very hard to open a restaurant and follow your dream. This was a difficult one to open. But when you love what you do, you go through these painful things, and I think it shows and it makes restaurants like Lupo and La Tavola stand out.”
As construction neared its conclusion, however, Lopez's outlook had changed. He was like a newly escaped Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption.” You know what he had to crawl through to get to this point: construction delays, struggles with the city over regulations and all of the nightmares that come with renovating an old building. Located in the Mallway at Old Arlington, Lupo's new home is the old Ohio National Bank building, complete with a vault. It's a charming spot that once housed Park Creek Kitchen and The Barrel Wine Bar.
The Mallway has personal meaning to Lopez, who grew up just a few streets away. “I used to walk down to this area and get ice cream. There was a hobby shop down at the end where I used to get models and marbles and balsa wood planes,” he says. More recently, the Grandview resident says he would ride his bike by the building in the evening, watching to see if it would go on the market, hoping to jump on the space if it came available.
He likes that it's not a typical restaurant space, and it's in the heart of a neighborhood, something that has helped drive his success in Grandview. “It suits me because it has a neighborhood, it has parking, and it's not Main-on-Main like in the Short North, where the rent is sky-high and you have to charge crazy prices,” he says.
While La Tavola focuses on fresh, market-driven Italian, Lupo will offer a seasonal menu that brings Spanish tapas and Italian cuisine together. New menus will be printed every day, with tapas changing frequently.
“That's my restaurant philosophy,” Lopez says. “I like to change as the product changes, as the seasons change, and I really like to use whatever's the freshest and the best.”
A typical order at Lupo might be four to five tapas per person, he says. For example, a small plate of house-made agnolotti (about a third the size of what he'd serve at La Tavola) might accompany small plates of charred octopus, serrano ham and Manchego croquettes (jamon y queso croquetas) and poached prawns with garlic (gambas al ajillo).
To run the kitchen, Lopez has tapped his sous chef-in-waiting, Todd Elder. The young chef has worked at La Tavola for the past year and a half, and Lopez is clearly proud to hand over the reins of Lupo to him. (On two occasions, he refers to Elder as the best chef in town.) The Columbus native started his career at Barcelona when he was 18 under chef Paul Yow. Elder worked there for eight years, so Spanish cuisine is his specialty.
“Food, to me, is bringing people together and letting them experience that and laughing and having a great time,” Elder says. “That's what our goal is here: to have people come in, try as many different things as possible and maybe find something new that they've never tried before, and they end up loving it.”
Lupo's X factor may be Ian Holmes, the owner of Coastal Local Seafood, which sources fresh seafood for local restaurants, including La Tavola. In May, when Columbus Monthly profiled Holmes for our annual Tastemakers issue, he mentioned that he dreamed of running an oyster bar one day—“something tiny in an old brick building with a little bit of character,” he said at the time.
A year later, Holmes is getting his wish at Lupo.
“We just said, ‘Hey, how about if we team up and do this?' I love his fish, his product. It's superior to everything I've seen,” Lopez says.
Holmes expects to offer three to five oyster varieties at a time, served raw, fried or roasted.
“I get so much good stuff that I don't get to share with everyone, because a lot of places are set on their salmon, scallop, shrimp,” Holmes says. “I want to pull oysters from all over the country, all over the world. It's one of my specialties; I probably have 90 different places I can get oysters from.”
Look for Lupo to open Wednesday, April 18, just in time for patio season. Exactly as planned.***
The Lupo File
Executive Chef: Todd Elder
Hours: 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday
Square Footage: Just under 3,000 square feet
Seating: 78 inside with the bar; 36 on the patio
Interior Design By: Opal Stackhouse, 863 Henry St.
Interior Details: Private dining for eight to 10 in the bank vault, late 19th-century church pews, a custom-built oysters sign, vintage wallpaper
Ohio Purveyors: The Butcher & Grocer, Coastal Local Seafood, Chef's Garden, Mushroom Harvest
Wine List: Expect to see Spanish, Portuguese and several New World wines.
Cocktails: A full bar with an emphasis on aperitivo liqueurs
On Draft: Six taps with Ohio beers and one Spanish
Spanish Vocabulary to Know: pintxos, conservas, croquetas, fritto misto, jamon