George Gize and Josie Rotondo-Knapp of Assaggi Bistro.
Photo: Esme McClear
. (click for larger version)
With a name derived from the Italian assaggiare meaning to taste, Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale offers a menu of Italian tastes crafted by French techniques. Creative spins on indigenous classics from Mediterranean countries round out delicious offerings.
A decade ago, proprietors Josie Rotondo-Knapp and George Gize visioned the revival of a downtown along Nine Mile Road in Ferndale. They opened their restaurant Assaggi in a vacant storefront and can be credited with starting the resurgence of downtown Ferndale.
When the business next door closed soon after Assaggi opened, the owners jumped at the chance to expand their restaurant to 90 seats. Even with added space, if you don't reserve well ahead on a Friday or Saturday, you'll only be able to get a table later in the evening.
Assaggi's owners did it right, unlike a number of restaurants that have been opened by inexperienced proprietors, and failed in about a year. For over 30 years, Josie worked for other restaurants in the position of server, then manager. George was a waiter and cook, then owner of a Mediterranean specialty product store in Troy.
"We understood the major mistakes to avoid," Josie says. "We knew exactly what we wanted when we designed our own restaurant. It's the food complemented by hospitality and service that bring people here."
Assaggi is a culinary oasis that opens to grand surprises. An inviting atmosphere with open kitchen mirrors its owners who invested sweat equity as chief designers and remodelers. "I'm a simple person," says Josie. "I like clean lines and muted colors." Assaggi also functions as a local mini-gallery featuring works by local artists. All works are for sale.Crafting the menu
"Josie decides the seasonal offerings on the menu," says George. Forty-one year old Chef Steven Siekierzynski, a Schoolcraft College culinary school graduate and late of La Dolce Vita in Detroit, works with both Josie and George. Because one or both owners are always on premise, they know what regular diners like and communicate this to the kitchen.
Chef Steve considers himself "a spoke in the wheel of Assaggi's success." He seeks immediate diner response to his menu preparations. "As the owners have, I too, have visibility in the dining room."
Josie remarks emphatically, "We don't do fads." George adds, "Good food is always in and we're both particular about our menu."
The well-edited menu has five sections beginning with Amuse (starters $11-$15) where steak-cut Calamari Fritto is most ordered. The current winter menu includes a new Grilled Eggplant appetizer and a mainstay, Lentil Pancakes with sherried forest mushroom cream sauce....continued on page 2