What is the concept behind Siena?
The tagline we use to describe ourselves is “Tuscan Soul Food.” Our goal is to provide an experience here that is warm and welcoming, and to really make people feel like they’re being entertained at someone’s house. My brother Christopher and I co-own the [Providence and East Greenwich] restaurants and we’re there every day, working with our staff to provide guests with the best experience. We take great pride in what we do, and we’re both thankful that our families are understanding of how much we work.
What dishes are hot on the menu these days?
Our Chilean Sea Bass, prepared Branzino-style, and the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese are popular as always. We continue to stay strong with our core menu so customers can order their favorites, and we offer nightly specials to showcase seasonal items and our kitchen’s creativity. Usually we have five specials a night – two appetizers and three entrees. Lately we’ve been serving up a lot of fresh coastal seafood. We’ve also been buying squash flowers from local farmers, which we stuff with a mixture of goat cheese, mascarpone and fresh basil, then pan fry in a light batter and serve with a touch of quality extra virgin olive oil and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
You’re a chef and owner. What advice do you have for entering the business?
Before someone decides to go into the business, they have to understand the personal demands that come with working in the restaurant industry. We work when most people play. If someone is interested in becoming a chef, they shouldn’t just jump into culinary school. They should first explore the industry by working in it and seeing what they are getting [themselves] into. Once they are sure they have a true passion for it, they should go to an accredited culinary school. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t become an executive chef or restaurant owner overnight. There are many students who want to jump into a head chef position, but you really need to consciously build a good foundation before taking that step.
Where do you like to eat when you’re not in the kitchen?
I like going to simple places, and mostly I look for smaller boutique restaurants. Two of my favorites are Twin Willows in Narragansett and Spain in Cranston. In the summer, I love clam cakes by the beach. If I’m feeling especially ambitious, I take a road trip to Pepe’s in New Haven for coal fired pizza – you have to go to the original. Though I don’t have much free time, I love to ride my Harley Davidson. It’s quick, it doesn’t take a lot of time, and I can go anywhere in the state in a half-hour.
Tell us about the tapas at your East Greenwich location.
They are wildly popular. They fit into the concept of that location, which is an enoteca – bringing together the features of a wine bar and a small trattoria, with tastings. The most popular are our meat and cheese boards, which feature meats, cheeses and olives imported from Italy.
What’s next for you?
The big news is that we’re getting ready to launch our third restaurant, projected for early 2013. It will be in Smithfield on Route 44. The interior design will be different, but it will carry the same popular core menu as the other two locations along with tapas and meat/cheese boards. It’ll be the largest of our restaurants, seating about 180 and featuring a large dedicated bar area. In expanding our business, the old adage comes to mind: “How do you eat a dinosaur? One bite at a time.” You have to make sure you don’t go too quickly, or you’ll choke.