Industry Insiders: Mario Tolentino, Juliet’s New Man

Mario Tolentino swept into Juliet supperclub after the departure of mega chef Todd English, and took care of some housekeeping around the joint. Now known as Juliet Kitchen and Grill, Tolentino’s serving a finger-food heavy menu inspired by international street food, and based on clever things he learned while traveling the globe over the years. The San Francisco native was a season winner on The Food Network’s show, Chopped, and spent time in the kitchen at Aqua in San Francisco. More on the apple of Juliet’s eye after the jump.

On a typical day at Juliet: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays I go to the farmer’s market. I try to get as much as I can there. We’re not doing 300 covers a night, so I can really control what food I get. I go in to do my preparation. I buy all my meats whole and do my own butchering, which is one of my favorite things to do. Then we go into service.

On the new menu: The theme of the menu is based on modern, international, ethnically-styled street food. Everything is small and comes on a skewer. It’s easy for people to eat. I completely re-launched the concept and gave it a theme that was more suitable for the club atmosphere there. That was one of the first things I had to do when I got there. We have large groups of people that come there. This isn’t the type of place where it’s like, Me and my hubby are coming for an intimate dinner. The reality of it is that people are coming here to have a good time. I want the menu to be reflective of that. When I originally came up with the concept I thought it through from top to bottom. We have to take the linen off the tables, we have to change the uniforms for the waiters, we need to change how the people are eating. I put the chopsticks in and give them roll-ups and we took the formal wine glasses off the table. It’s basically platters of canapés, very easy to eat. They’re all exotic, drawing from Asian and Latin cultures—all these warm, temperate climate cultures where it’s hot and sexy. It reflects on the type of clients that we have. On Tuesdays, we just started this new world party where we are bringing in world music and we have live instruments played. It ties the international food with international clients and the flavor of Juliet.

On his travels: I’ve lived in Hawaii, Barcelona and everywhere in between. I was always a traveler at heart, but I was always able to combine that with my passion for cooking as well. I love to cook, and the thing that facilitated traveling was the fact that I wanted to work in as many restaurants as I could, learn as much as I could, and see all different types of cultures and cuisines. It’s just something I was always passionate about since I was a kid.

On the difference in working in a nightclub/restaurant: Most of my background comes from hardcore fine dining. I was a sous chef at a two-Michelin star restaurant and at a one-Michelin star restaurant. You’re talking about extremely structured environments where everything is precise. You’re tripping out on some crazy ingredient or you’re tripping out on some modern technique that no one’s been doing too much of. At the end of the day, how much of that food do you just want to sit down and just chomp away at? I really wanted to set myself apart, and to make this about me and my experiences.

What precipitated the move to New York? My girlfriend, Julie Babin, used to live in New York. She’s a designer. She was working on projects here when we were living in Hawaii. It just wasn’t realistic for us to be there anymore.

Go-to spots: I live in the East Village, so there’s a lot of places to choose from. I eat at Momofuku all the time. Also, the other place I love to eat at is Northern Spy. I love this place called Minca Noodle Factory. It’s on 5th between A and B. Amazing. All they serve is Ramen but it’s this luxurious pork broth like none that I’ve ever tasted before.

Guilty pleasure: Candy, without a doubt. I love sour gummy candies and anything with bacon in it. Bacon and doughnuts.