By Tara Kerrigan Hayes
When you enter Fox & The Knife you’re immediately hit with sheer, exuberant, energy. Described as an Italian inspired Enoteca, this neighborhood joint is bursting with personality, with an Amy Winehouse meets Julia Child sort of vibe. From the buzz of the crowd, to the intoxicating aromas, the character of the décor, and the thoughtfully chosen tunes, there’s a pure celebration of the senses, before even sitting down to taste.
With no major structural renovations necessary, the redesign yields a sleek and cozy, yet edgy space, with one particular improvement that the Maiden lay-out had been screaming for; a six-seat chef’s table providing a full view of the open kitchen design, for diners to watch Chef Karen Akunowicz wield her culinary magic. And magic, it is. In her first solo venture, this James Beard-winning chef (and Top Chef alum) aimed to pay homage to her time spent deepening her love for cooking in Modena, Italy, and she more than delivered.
Every aspect of this place seems infused with the story of Chef Karen’s journey, with each element of every dish reflective of her personal style. As an ode to Modena, an aperitivo hour is offered at 4pm, followed by the dinner menu at 5:30, featuring Tigelle, a type of bread rarely found in the states. Likened to a crumpet or English muffin, it really is its own delicious creature, with its slightly brown crisp exterior and soft, steamy center, served with a smear of butter and sea salt. (Akunowicz schlepped the authentic iron to the states from Italy, offering American diners a unique experience).
Further transporting you, the opening menu showcases refreshing takes on classic dishes, highlighting Akunowicz’s masterful pasta-making skills, with soulful dishes like Wild Boar Bolognese. While such elevated comfort foods with luxurious sauces and bold flavors are no surprise from a chef so heavily influenced by Italian cuisine, it’s the nuances of some of the lighter dishes with surprising ingredients that command attention.
Creamy burrata mingles with shreds of fresh bietola topped with crispy shallots for a play of textures, married together with a warm walnut vinaigrette. Lightly browned brussel sprouts are brightened by mint and pickled shallots, while the panzanella salad with pomegranate is as vibrant as the hue of Akunowicz’s pink hair. The favorite was the Special of the night – perfectly seasoned salmon served over Israeli couscous seemingly simmered for centuries in a sumptuous sauce that simply sings.
Adding to the addictive atmosphere is an enthusiastic and welcoming staff, handling the eager crowd of foodies with professionalism and grace. The sprightly bar servers, (seek out Leanne-she’s a force), are all well versed in the impressive wine selection, and quick to pour tastes for the curious.
Spearheaded by general manager / beverage director Alexandra Hayden, the bar program has a focus on aperitifs, amaros and spritzes, with some intriguing twists on classic cocktails, like their show stopping Tarragon Gimlet, or Fox 75 (a play on the French 75, but with blood orange).
A seat at the bar offers the perfect spot to reveal all the thoughtful touches that went into the planning and execution of the already popular brainchild of a Chef with true swag. Deep purple, velvet covered high top chairs lead to a pink neon sign that reads “Stay Foxy”. Behind it, the chalkboard wall is accented with a handwritten note professing the Chef’s favorite wine choice. Even the recessed lights are adorned with vintage bulbs. With a playlist that includes Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse (go figure) keeping things sexy at just the right volume, the entire experience does precisely what any spot endeavors to do; makes you hungry to come back again for more. (Photos by Kevin Rivard and Brian Samuels).