Industry Insiders: Sebastian Gonella, Culinary Creativity

As owner and CEO of West Village hot spot De Santos, Sebastian Gonella brings an artistic sensibility to New York dining. After moving to the city from South America in 2006, Gonella discovered his passion for the restaurant world when he helped a friend open Juliette, a popular French bistro in Brooklyn. But Gonella’s approach to fine dining goes beyond great food and service, thanks to his days spent working as an actor and running his production company. "To be part of the artistic community, you need not only an office where you run your business, you need to have a social setting, and a restaurant is the perfect fit," he says.

Located in a historic brownstone that was once home to Janis Joplin and Jean-Michel Basquiat, there is a history of creativity flowing through the space. "This building has always been involved with the arts, and dining here is a fun, creative experience," says Gonella. It’s also a high-tech experience, as each server uses an iPad as a way to interact with customers. Quickly becoming a staple in the artistic community of the West Village, the restaurant’s patrons range from artists and writers to celebrities like Martin Scorsese and Kate Winslet. "I just want people to come and experience it," Gonella says. 

Nightlife Try Outs: Ricardo Garcia’s Banker-Cum-Nightlifer Itinerary

It’s a Thursday night and I’m uptown at Lavo surveying the scene: there’s Irina Shayk; hoards of other models that I can’t really see because Irina Shayk’s image has just been permanently etched into my retina; decent looking women; not-so-decent-looking women, who sleep with promoters and staff to prove they can be useful. For every ten of these women, there’s one graying, dapper, monied man, to whom they cling. I’m in the corner guzzling drinks and contemplating why every man with half (an empty) brain doesn’t feel compelled to drop whatever else he’s got going on to do this “daddy” routine. Then memory takes me back to one man who did. I’ve seen Ricardo Garcia at just about every event I’ve gone to in the last three years. In the early days, he’d have to leave relatively early – 2am – to be fresh for the next day’s work investing something into something else. He was always either just drunk enough to approach every girl in the room, or just nice enough. Camera in hand, he’d ask to take everyone’s picture—usually pretty girls in droves—and aim to find them on Facebook the next day in order to tag them. Oldest game in the book, I’d say, but he was shrewdly doing it to build up his connections in the nightlife arena. Now he’s a full-time nighttime kind of guy, running an events and branding company, all thanks to this early “daddy” routine. Smart guy. Here’s what his nightlife looks like, now that he doesn’t have finance stuff to worry about.

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Name: Ricardo Antonio Garcia Professional Resume: I am a former Merger & Acquisitions Financier that now owns and operates Red Hot-PR, a New York and London based PR firm concentrating on brand building, event planning, promotions, talent management, photo production, public relations, entertainment financing, and media coverage. I also founded Red Hot-Society, which is an online weekly fashion, entertainment, and events newsletter covering various social activities and featuring only the direct scene without the “fluff.” New York Nightlife in a Word: It used to be “Champagne Bollinger.” Now it’s more Patron.

City Loves: Lunch spot: Sant Ambroeus. Both locations in the city and Southampton. • Dinner spot: South Gate in the Jumeirah Essex House on Central Park South. • Nightlife trend: The Box has been a four-year trend for me • Drink of choice: Star Vodka by Charles Ferri, on the rocks with a lime twist. • Meal of choice: Filet Mignon with potato mash and Saint Émilion • Group of people to bump into: Doesn’t matter, as long as they are good looking.

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City GripesNightlife trend you loathe: SL and Provocateur, and other places where the nouveau bourgeoisie congregate in their wannabe nouveau riche style and demeanor. • Drink: I never understood “infused” liquors. • Meal: I am not a fan of curry. • Group of people to bump into: Anyone who thinks they are royalty because they made few bucks lately, or obtained some exposure via media, reality TV, or some other vessel.

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His HotspotsMonday: La Zarza, cozy and a nice looking crowd, great music. •Tuesday: La Vie for a hookah and vodka, then some private event invite usually pops up elsewhere. •Wednesday: Mari Vanna for early cocktails/dinner then late night loft party or private event. •Thursday: Le Cirque for pre cocktails/dinner then CV Lounge late night. •Friday: Dinner at De Santos, cocktails after at The Lion, then avoiding the B and T crowd, so perhaps a local bar late night, or a private house party in Nantucket or Southampton, if it’s the summer months. •Saturday: Dinner and drinks local—walking distance: Travertine, Freeman’s, or Madame Geneva. Usually, there’s too much B and T to make it a “night,” unless I’m in Nantucket or Southampton for a house party. •Sunday: Charbon for a burger and wine, Union Square Lounge for their Brazilian Model Party, and maybe cocktails at Café Habana.

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Every night: I like the Crosby Bar in the Crosby Street Hotel. •Wouldn’t be caught dead here: Abe & Arthur’s, Avenue, The Collective, SL, Provocateur, and Pacha. •For special occasions: Bemelmans Bar for piano jazz, or Café Carlyle for Woody Allen’s band on Mondays. • Brunch is usually: The Odeon.

Openings: De Santos, New York

imageSouth America fucking rocks, man. At least enough to make Mana drummer Alex Gonzalez — a sort of Latin American Larry Mullen Jr. — flush enough to jump into the restaurant biz, luring him successfully from kit to kitchen. In fact, his Puerta Vallarta restaurant has been such a smash that he’s decided to take on Manhattan, where, luckily, there are few traces of election-year Red Stater xenophobia. Oddly, the new De Santos restaurant, opened the first week of September, is not Mexican, but Italian.

The place comes with a creative and contemporary twist, and it’s quite serious about wine. The vibe is distinctly West Village, sexy but cozy, with exposed brick and an understatedly stylish interior. There’s also an elegant garden area, and, fittingly for a rock star boite, a very impressive sound system. Viva Gonzalez!

Short Stack: Openings

New YorkHea, Cantonese slang for “chill,” opens in the East Village, serving southeast Asian/Japanese fusion. ● Murray Hill newcomer The Hill opens. The big draw is the big screens for the big games, and the promise of team-specific brewskies to wash down your sorrows or celebrate victories. ● No 7 opens in Fort Greene, festooning the all-white interior with plates of roasted chicken, grilled cod, and hangar steak. Look for local micro-brews on tap.

● Books and booze are the name of the game at Libertine at Gild Hall in the financial district, which opens today. ● 9th Street Espresso reopens in the East Village after extensive renovations. ● Like we said, the Eldridge opens in the LES; expect a tight door and berries in your cocktails. ● The UWS welcomes Bloomingdale Road on Wednesday; they got bar snacks like meatballs and mini-cheeseburgers, and entrees like smoked trout. ● In the old Caffee Torino space, De Santos opens. Housed in a brownstone, this two-story spot has outdoor space, a lengthy wine list, and a serious set of speakers.

Los AngelesADCB (“Asia de Cuba Bar”) opens at the Mondrian (note: Asia de Cuba is right next door). Featuring a snake-like 120-person couch in bright orange and waitresses in boots and white dresses, this is modernism at its best. ● The bar concept 12-21 is finally open at Morton’s. Small bites and a big bar. ● Porn comes to the Valley. Or rather, more porn comes to the valley. This time, in club form. Come one, come all to Oxygen for Tattoo Tuesdays, Coyote Ugly nights, and Friday “college nights” at this venue, which will feature booths dedicated to adult actresses — complete with costumes and set photos. ● Cristoni Pizzeria finally opens on Sunset, slinging pies until 2 a.m. on the weekends (midnight weekdays).

San FranciscoJanitizi opens in the Mission, championing “Cuisine of the America’s,” whatever that means. ● Also in the Mission, Stable Café opens. Previously a real live stable, this incarnation will serve breakfast and lunch.

ChicagoThe Counter brings some west coast burger style to Lincoln Park. ● Get your Cuban sandwich fix at 90 Miles Cuban Café, opening tomorrow in Logan Square. Don’t forget to chase it with a tropical shake … guava, mango, banana, you get the idea.