Chef Carrie Nahabedian wants to get one thing out of the way up front: Kostali, her new pan-Mediterranean restaurant coming to luxury hotel The Gwen this fall, is absolutely, 100 percent not Naha redux.
Practically every other minute during a recent conversation, Nahabedian ruefully noted that friends and customers kept asking whether favorite dishes from Naha would be returning. (Hey, it’s hard to have a beloved restaurant!) Kostali may share some of the same North African and Mediterranean flavors, but it’s a totally new concept.
Nahabedian is a culinary machine; the woman never stops moving. And unlike some big-name chefs, she’s actually spending time in the kitchen. When we last talked, she was in Los Angeles for a funeral, giving a presentation at the premiere of a film, and editing her new menus, all at the same time.
“I’m in a phase where I cook every single day at Brindille and I love that, but it’s also a drain because, you know, 10 hours a day you’re cooking and then you’ve got to sleep, and then work on the new restaurant and work on my business, and take care of my mother. I’m always running.”
Her history with hotels (Nahabedian was the chef at the Four Seasons, once upon a time) helped land her this spot at The Gwen, as hotels regularly ask her to open restaurants. With the (hopefully temporary) closure of Naha, she had enough bandwidth for a new project; this also seemed like the perfect deal. Kostali won’t be handling many normal “hotel restaurant” duties — no breakfast, no lobby bar, no banquets.
Kostali means “coastal” in Maltese, and Nahabedian was inspired by the unique location of Malta at the crossroads of the region to create the menu. Dishes come from all over that area, and Nahabedian describes the cuisine as “Heavy Riviera” – dishes from Greece, Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy, along with hints of the Middle East and North Africa. The feeling will be nothing like Brindille, which is known for delicate French-inspired food; Kostali will be warm, friendly, relaxing, and bold.
“It’s supposed to feel like you are on vacation,” Nahabedian says. “We are bringing the lifestyle of the coast, everything but the beach.”
The menu isn’t finished yet, but she’s known the direction of the food for a long time. Think “great fish, octopus, loup de mer from the Med, braised meats and shanks, a heavy country provincial feel, very rustic dishes,” according to Nahabedian. The restaurant will serve housemade pastas; one with clams, garlic, roasted baby eggplants, and fire-roasted peppers is sure to be a hit. It’s a hotel restaurant, so expect an “incredible ribeye” featuring a cheesy fondue on the side and, of course, bread.
"I'm Armenian; bread is in my veins,” she says. “You’re going to sit down, and there’s going to be bread. I don’t want to pay for my bread and I don’t want to have to ask for it."
She’ll also be serving a wide array of bar snacks in the cocktail lounge, which bring in cocktail ingredients (mostly herbs) from all over the Mediterranean.
Nahabedian’s cousin and regular restaurant partner Michael has designed the restaurant and is curating the wine list, which will feature only wines from the region, with absolutely nothing from the Americas or Australia. “It’ll annoy people, but it’s pushing them out of their comfort zone,” Nahabedian says.
The restaurant was supposed to open at the beginning of October, but there have been some slight construction delays, so expect an opening in early November. And if anyone is reluctant to grab a casual bite on the fifth-floor lobby of a luxury hotel, Nahabedian has a simple statement for you: “Hotel dining is back, and it’s bigger than ever.”