When Avi Szapiro cut the ceremonial ribbon on Roia, his new farm-to-table French and Italian restaurant, he showed off a butternut squash puree with marinated leeks and roasted pine nuts—as well as a marble mosaic tile floor no one has seen in decades.
Both the new cuisine and the old Taft Hotel dining room grandly restored to the Gilded Age were on display Wednesday night Avi Szapiro introduced the restaurant to a festive crowd of 150 officials, friends, and foodies.
Szapiro is a chef from Bogota, Colombia, in the Elm City by way of Brooklyn whose business partner introduced him to the College Street space, which is best known as the former home of Hot Tomato’s.
“I fell in love with the space. It’s a grand space we want to honor,” said Szapiro.
That involved removing layer upon layer of carpeting and linoleum to reveal beneath it a Calcutta marble floor fashioned of thousands of thumbnail-sized blueish white individual tiles.
It’s identical to the tile floor in the Taft Hotel but had been buried and unappreciated for decades.
Likewise the paneling beneath the windows was found beneath plywood and lovingly restored and refinished.
Designers added a shorter but shiny wooden stairway up to the balcony, and Szapiro brought in old sinks, Carrara marble for the new bar, and glass at booths next to plush red seats.
As the waitstaff passed around trays of appetizers including Ahi tuna with shaved fennel, hanger steak with salsa verde, and a canape of duck fra diavolo on a a crispy polenta square (pictured), Szapiro characterized Roia’s cuisine as full of the classic influences of Italy and France; many of his suppliers are local New England farms.
The restaurant is named for a river that flows through both Italy and France depositing its influences in New Haven thanks to Szapiro.
He said about 30 percent of the menu is edible by vegetarians, and there is one vegan dish.
The mayor praised the entrepreneurs for respecting the location and the building. Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen thanked Szapiro and his wife for investing in New Haven and bringing jobs downtown.
Those will eventually number 40 full-time jobs, according to Cronin. He said for the first month, the elegant eatery will open only for dinner, with breakfast and lunch to be added later.