Though Donatella Arpaia spent much of her childhood in her father’s restaurant, she herself was groomed to become a lawyer. But after filling in for a hostess at Scarlatti (her brother’s midtown restaurant), Arpaia discovered her passion for the dining world. She opened her first restaurant, Bellini, and quit law the next day. Soon after, she teamed up with David Burke to launch davidburke & donatella, garnering much attention for whimsical modern fare and a loyal midtown clientele.
With chef-partner Michael Psilakis, the two successfully reinvented Bellini as southern-European dona, following up with modern Greek at Anthos. Though they were forced to close dona after only nine months, it will soon reopen in its new midtown location with rustic, Greek-inflected Italian cuisine.
A cook herself, Arpaia has also recently developed a line of artisanal Italian products, including tomato sauce, olive oil and her grandmother’s almond cookies.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job in food?
Cashier in Scarlatti
How do you go from a lawyer to restaurateur?
My father was always in the business and my brother was groomed for it. I was supposed to be a lawyer, but six months into practicing I fell into it. I lived above my brother’s restaurant, Cellini, and filled in as a hostess. I loved doing it and I thought I could do it better than anyone else. When I found the location for my first spot Bellini, I quit law the next day.
How did your partnership with David Burke transpire?
I found the space for davidburke & donatella and secured the lease. David used to work at Park Avenue Cafe then. When he heard about the space, he called me and we made a deal that day. It was an easy fit: I would run the front of the house and he would handle the back. We both wanted to bring back glamour to a high end clientele.
How did you meet Michael Psilakis?
A friend told about a chef in Long Island City doing Italian who he thought was an amazing talent. We became good friends and stayed in touch until the right project came along. I wanted to change Bellini and Michael had Onera by then, but wanted a bigger stage. That was dona.
What was it like to lose dona less than a year after reopening?
Awful. And we had just decided to do Anthos, but I couldn’t turn that space into dona because I had promised Michael he could do Greek, so I stuck to my word. I’m excited to finally reopen it and the space is spectacular. There’s this great homey, casual energy.
What’s your favorite on Anthos’ menu right now?…
The prawns with smoked chicken and the six minute egg
What’s your least favorite?
The lamb. I just hate the smell of lamb.
What trend do you most embrace?
Good service, informed service.
What trend do you wish would die already?
What’s on the horizon for you? Any new ventures? Spill the beans…
An entertaining cookbook.
Address: 36 West 52nd St., btwn 5th & 6th Aves.