All About Principe in Soho
At Principe, the raw bar — with its turquoise marble and mother-of-pearl tones — could have been lifted from Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Filled with oysters, sea urchin, and scallops, it’s the star of the Soho restaurant, a sister to Saint Theo’s in the West Village. But just below it, one floor beneath the raw bar, is one of New York’s most accomplished fine dining chefs, and he’s making Italian-inspired food that’s personal, if not exactly keeping with his résumé.
Here’s everything you need to know about Principe before you go:
The Team at Principe
1. Principe has an A-team in the kitchen and front-of-house.
New York diners know Principe executive chef and founding partner Abram Bissell from The Nomad and its truffle-stuffed roast chicken (RIP). They ate his tasting menus at The Modern, where he led the kitchen for more than six years. Now, after a pandemic reset and a brief stint in Anguilla, Bissell is back, opening Principe with founding partner Rob Goldman, managing partner Tony Carson, and Bleecker Street Hospitality.
Though Bissell has cooked in Manhattan for more than two decades, Principe is his first spot located south of Houston. In the kitchen, he’s recruited a crew of powerhouse alums from The Nomad and The Modern to manage the restaurant (Kal Nemieboka) and the bar (Alan Wither), and to oversee the Italian-leaning wine program (Jordanne Pascual-Cancel), and all-things-flour (Rebecca Isbell).
In a welcome departure from his hotel and museum days, Bissell and his back-of-house team are working out of a 12-foot by 12-foot kitchen. “We’re 100% bare bones: no fancy stoves, no fancy tools. We’ve got lots of hands,” he says. “We’re a high-talent group of people who are just having fun together.”
That was part of Principe’s appeal for Bissell — the opportunity to build a staff from scratch; work on a smaller, more intimate scale; and do it all from the center of his culinary universe.
2. Principe has a real estate pedigree.
Located at the intersection of West Broadway and Prince Street (principe is Italian for prince), the restaurant’s two-story dining room, concrete walls, dramatic staircase, and towering windows are unusual for downtown real estate, and that’s because the building once housed the National Geographic Fine Art Gallery, which closed during the pandemic. Owner Goldman pounced on the lease, spent a year renovating the space, and let the architecture inform the focus. “We made this into a seafood concept because it looks like a breakwater or pier with its concrete blocks and waves. Plus, I had been chasing Abram in Anguilla,” says Goldman, who took a family trip to the Caribbean island in order to lure Bissell to the project.
3. You can drink like you’re at the White Lotus in Sicily.
In addition to upstairs and downstairs dining rooms, there’s also a 14-seat bar, reserved for walk-ins. Diners can enjoy a full meal there or drop in for cocktails and snacks. Wither’s backbar floweth over with Italian amari, and his drink menu opens with a trio of spritzes that are a bit more advanced than classic Aperol. For one, he combines Caperitif vermouth, Contratto bitter, grapefruit soda, and coriander; then there’s bright, floral yuzu soda with Nonino, honey, and rosemary. Principe’s contribution to the current martini craze is a vodka number with a split of marsala and dry vermouth, and Negroni lovers have their choice of gin and bourbon variations (Wither even includes Chartreuse in one), plus the non-alcoholic Phony Negroni from St. Agrestis.
Jordanne Pascual-Cancel’s wine list includes the entirety of Italy (including Sicilian Etna Rosato and Rosso by the glass), along with French must-haves à la Burgundy and Champagne and some of the sommelier’s favorite New York State wines.
4. Remember, Manhattan is an island.
Although it’s a lesser-known part of his biography, Bissell grew up in the Florida Keys. “The most peaceful place in the world to me is by the ocean,” he says. “I’ve always loved fish. I’ve always loved seafood.” He also loves Manhattan, and while the skyscraper-covered hunk of schist isn’t exactly known as a sanctuary of tranquility, Bissell does want to remind diners that this is, indeed, an island.
For Principe’s plucked-from-the-sea raw bar selection, he’s serving composed bites (there are no Nomad-esque seafood towers here): Think red prawns with a dunk of coriander and jalapeño sauce, just-shucked scallops with pistachio and sorrel, and Jonah crab claws wrapped in piquant mustard leaves. Bissell is sourcing oysters from the Hampton Oyster Company and dressing them with New Jersey-grown citrus, chives, and Sarawak pepper. There are clams in the bucatini and rock shrimp in the mafaldine, plus a six-pound, charcoal-roasted, lobster-sauce-glazed turbot for two.
5. The menu is Italian-inspired, with an American attitude.
Bissell’s past menus have always featured a pasta or two, but Principe is his first official Italian venture. “I grew up in an Italian American family, making pasta with my grandma, mom, aunts, and my sisters,” says Bissell. “Most people don’t know that because it’s something that I never bothered exploring. Part of my COVID journey was realizing that I was too wound up in cooking something that didn’t feel authentic to me.”
But don’t expect throwback Italian American classics, or deep explorations into regional Italian food. Bissell is experimenting with alkaline pasta doughs (closer to ramen noodles than the spaghetti next door), American-milled flours, and alternative fats that yield a different texture than egg yolks and olive oil. Even for Principe’s ndunderi, an ancient pasta form recognized by UNESCO, he’s cooking the dumplings in a deliciously sacrilegious bath of dashi (Japanese fish stock) rather than water.
Just because Bissell loves fried chicken, and the sense of generosity it conveys, he’s also serving bowls of crispy chicken with a thick slick of Kewpie mayonnaise-based basil aïoli. “It’s not Italian at all,” he says. “But I’m also an American, and as an American, I can do whatever I want.”
6. There’s a chef di farina.
Bissell and Isbell have worked together on and off for almost 14 years, and rather than limiting the pastry chef to desserts, she’s been named chef di farina. Isbell manages Principe’s pasta production (currently two extruded and two handmade) and a bread program featuring fermented farro dough that’s griddled in the style of Italian piada. The sweet side of the menu is stacked with frozen desserts: a coconut-hibiscus popsicle, fior di latte gelato with olive oil and black pepper, chocolate cannoli with ricotta gelato, and a Key lime ice cream sandwich. True to her title, there’s also the comfort choice of a brown butter-caramel apple torta.