Verona’s culinary profile is about to get kicked up a notch–several notches, in fact.
Ariane Duarte announced at the Montclair Food and Wine Festival on Monday night that CulinAriane, the high-end restaurant she co-founded with her husband Michael Duarte, will be closing. In its place, the Duartes will be opening a more casual restaurant in the former location of O’Neil’s Restaurant & Pub at 706 Bloomfield Avenue. The new restaurant will be called Ariane Kitchen & Bar-AKB.
“I don’t want to be just the special occasion restaurant any more,” Ariane Duarte said this afternoon. “I want to make it the place that people go to once a week and not just once a year.”
O’Neil’s closed in January and its liquor license was sold to Duarte and John MacEvoy, who moved the Verona Inn to a new building in the center of town in March 2012. The Duartes and MacEvoy remain partners in the new restaurant, despite multiple rumors to the contrary.
“He’s been amazing with the construction,” Duarte said of MacEvoy. “He’s really seen my vision.” The new restaurant will have between 80 and 100 seats, including a communal table. CulinAriane expanded to 55 seats from 30 in 2010, but reservations were still hard to get. “It’s still going to be my food, it’s still Mike and I in the restaurant, but it is going to be different,” Duarte said of the new venture.
Demolition work on O’Neil’s began in late April. The interior was gutted and workers have removed the stucco and shingles from its facade. The exterior now features an aged brick look that is very similar to the Verona Inn. Inside, the crew replaced a column that separated the space with a steel beam to open it up.
If all goes according to plan, CulinAriane will close around the end of August [UPDATE: The final service will be September 12] and Ariane Kitchen & Bar will open mid-October.
CulinAriane had received numerous accolades since its founding, including several appearances on New Jersey Monthly‘s annual list of the best restaurants in the state. The restaurant, located just around the corner from Mountainside Hospital, was an almost instant hit in Montclair, and its profile went national after Ariane Duarte appeared on the reality TV cooking show “Top Chef” in 2008. Duarte has become a regular on food television, but the Verona native (and Verona High School graduate) also made time to cook for teachers’ luncheons and Verona fundraisers.
On Tuesday afternoon, Duarte was deep into decisions about banquette seating at the new restaurant. “It was a hard decision to leave Montclair,” she said, “but it was the right one.”