New York City knows how to keep a good secret. From clandestine cocktail bars and tucked-away gardens to exclusive parties and hidden pieces of history, its list of classified gems is reserved for those in the know — and getting in on a good scoop can feel wholly satisfying, a privilege that puts you in a select circle of the privy, clued-in New Yorkers. By Alisha Prakash
But sometimes, the best secrets are those you don’t keep — the ones you share and enjoy in the company of others. Enter: Frevo, a contemporary restaurant in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Before you start spreading the word, though, you first need to know where to find it. You see, the surreptitious, speakeasy-style restaurant is concealed. Upon arriving at the West 8th Street address, you’ll find a small art gallery, not a restaurant. You may pull out your phone to check if you’re in the right place — and you are, as the young woman standing in front of the colourful canvases, created by French artist Toma-L, confirms.
From there, the surprises only continue: pulling open one of the paintings reveals a secret door, inviting those lucky enough to have scored a reservation to step through and sidle up to one of the 14 counter seats.
“My business partner, Bernardo Silva, and I always dreamt of opening a restaurant in NYC since we were younger,” says Brazil-born, French-taught chef Franco Sampogna, the brains behind the entire operation. Silva, from Portugal, met Sampogna while working in a restaurant in France. “When we found this space, it was larger than we initially planned…That’s when Bernardo came up with the idea of using almost 30 per cent of the space as an art gallery in the front, using one of the artworks as the gateway to the restaurant.”
Though the idea of attracting business to a restaurant that’s hidden behind a painting naturally drew some sceptics, the concept proved to be a successful one. Just take it from me: vanishing behind the portal-like painting and into the secluded, warmly lit restaurant is pure magic, the type of thrill often found only in fantasy films and novels. But be prepared to be transported with your taste buds, too, starting with the welcome glass of champagne the sommelier pours to perfectly pair with a palate-opening amuse bouche: for us, an artichoke-stuffed arancini ball kissed with truffle and parmesan.
Much like the near-theatrical entrance itself, the tasting menu — a sublime six-course paired with superb wines — offers one unexpected treat after another: Grilled asparagus is artfully plated with a pistachio crème and coconut foam; prawn ceviche is crowned with salmon roe and a dollop of avocado ice cream; Maine lobster is lovingly bathed in a succulent Breton curry and served with green peas and algae; grilled calamari sits contently in a cauliflower, smoked butter sauce; and a 45-day dry-aged steak comes with a sprinkle of black garlic and dash of doenjang. And though it has been weeks since our visit, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about dessert: a refreshing concoction of wild strawberries, rhubarb, and hibiscus.
Even better, the menu at this restaurant, which is hidden behind a painting, shifts with the seasons — chef Sampogna uses only the freshest ingredients, sourcing from local producers and farmers when possible — so your visit may be entirely new each time.
“The more time we spend cooking, the more we realise that the right products consumed at their peak make a huge difference,” says Sampogna, who also touts Frevo’s sustainable approach. “What is often disregarded in a tasting-menu restaurant is that it’s one of the most sustainable methods in the restaurant business. We only order the amount of food we need to prepare for a precise number of guests. We don’t stock surplus or ingredients we don’t use in the menu, therefore reducing waste to a minimum…COVID showed us that everything is connected, and we really need the food system to work well, and more importantly, be more sustainable.”
If it seems as though Sampogna and Silva have thought of everything, it’s because they have, down to the custom-made cutlery and glasses and soulful playlist. With such precision and perfection going into the whole experience, you might expect a formal feel, but the open kitchen and communal counter encourage casual interaction and camaraderie between the guests and chefs, waiters, and bartenders, keeping the mood laid-back yet elegant and intimate. (There are also two separate tables in the back for those wanting privacy.)
As for the name of this restaurant hidden behind a painting – Frevo? It comes from the Portuguese word “to boil” — a nod not only to the language Sampogna and Silva share but also to the bubbling spirit and energy of the city. And in a place like New York, which has it all, Frevo finds a way to stand out even when out of plain sight.
Alisha Prakash is Travel + Leisure’s senior digital editor. A New Yorker through and through, she’s caught in a love affair between big cities and the great outdoors. Follow her adventures on Instagram @alishaprakash and Twitter @alishasays.
Related: A Replica Of The Rosebud Motel From ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Is Now Open In The US