Industry Insiders: Joe Campanale, Wine Warrior

Joe Campanale and his business partner, chef Gabe Thompson, opened their first restaurant, dell’anima, in the fall of 2007, while Joe was still a year away from earning his masters at NYU’s Food Studies program. The cozy Italian restaurant in the West Village, which stays open until 2:00 a.m. five nights a week, immediately became a go-to spot for stylish locals and celebrities alike. On a recent weeknight we spotted Mad Men’s January Jones and Elisabeth Moss plus SNL funnyman Jason Sudeikis lingering over bowls of homemade pasta. In the next three years Joe and Gabe opened two more restaurants: L’Artusi, the bigger, grander version of dell’anima, and Anfora, a dimly lit wine bar adjacent to their first restaurant. Joe serves as beverage director for all three, crafting signature cocktails and helping diners navigate the extensive all-Italian wine lists. When he’s not working at one of his restaurants, you can find Joe racing in a marathon, roaming Italy, or teaching Martha Stewart how to mix a cocktail. Joe took time out from a wine-tasting trip in Friuli, Italy, to chat with BlackBook about restaurants, food, TV, and wines for under $10.

Biggest challenge of owning and operating three restaurants? Finding the right people so I don’t have to be all three restaurants every night, which is what we are constantly working on. These days I do very little of the actual operations. The other challenge is finding balance. I love work and my tendancy is to be here all the time. Running has helped me balance my life better.

At a small, neighborhood restaurant like dell’anima, where private seating isn’t really an option, how do you cater to celebrity clientele? We have a lot of celebs who come in and don’t seem to be bothered by the lack of privacy. Our guests are great about respecting people’s privacy. A few times though we’ve had people book the private room at L’Artusi so that they could be sure they have some privacy.

Nowadays, thanks to the Food Network and reality TV shows like Top Chef, consumers are a lot more informed, or at least they think they are. How does this affect the restaurant industry? I think its great that people are more interested and involved in food. The fact that consumers are more informed and demanding than ever will only help the guys who are doing it right.

Would you participate in a reality TV show? I’m open to it

Is there someone in the restaurant/hospitality biz whose career you wish to emulate? I respect Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food & Wine and Danny Meyer (of course!) but am trying to do my own thing.

Favorite NYC spots: I go to Gramercy Tavern and sit at the bar all the time! If I’m ever uptown its probably because I’m at Dovetail and I love Franny’s and Roberta’s in Brooklyn.

How can the general dining population become more educated about wine? Ask your sommelier a few questions when your order a bottle of wine, see if your favorite wine store does tastings, or sign up for a class. Institute of Culinary Education and the International Wine Center do great classes. Wine is one of those things where having a little knowledge really adds to the enjoyment.

Is there such a thing as a great bottle of wine for under $15? Under $10? I drink bottles at those prices all the time. I think you can have a very good bottle at $10 or $15, but a great wine requires a great plot of land, low yields, and lots of hours of doing things by hand – the kinds of things you can skimp on with less expensive wines. So, once in a while it is worth it to splurge on a nicer bottle if you can.

Your favorite cocktail? Negroni Sbagliato (“wrong negroni”), a negroni with sparkling white wine instead of gin.

Plans for the future? Continue to improve dell’anima, L’Artusi, and Anfora and we’ll see what comes of it.

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