Mike Gibney, owner and head chef of the new Inizio restaurant on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, isn’t usually at a loss for words, but if you ask him about the concept behind his new restaurant, he boils it down to a singular noun: “Pasta, pasta, pasta.”
Gibney told us he really began to think about the possibilities of pasta as the head chef of a restaurant in Colorado.
“You can dress it up or dress it down as much as you want,” he said. “It can be really fancy or it can be really approachable and casual. I also noticed that making it from scratch is something that can allow us to charge reasonable prices and still cover our costs. So, the whole model is built around the idea of (handmade) pasta.
He said getting back to making things by hand is something he’s really excited about with Inizio.
“We make butter from scratch, we make cheese from scratch, we make all of our ice cream from scratch and we make all of our pasta from scratch,” Gibney said. “There’s something about that idea that feels like we are in conversation with people who have been making food for others for centuries. We are participating in a tradition that I find really important, and I think a lot of people over the past few decades have gotten away from that, especially with the rise of modern technology and what’s available in grocery stores. People don’t have to have any real relationship with ingredients.”
If you can’t tell, Gibney is a bit loquacious and you might think that translates into a restaurant that is way too serious and ambitious. That’s not necessarily so at Inizio. The kitchen may be flexing some serious culinary muscle, but the overall vibe is pretty casual. Well, maybe more like business casual. The radiatore bolognese ($18) features a umami-packed lamb-and-beef meat sauce over “radiator-shaped” pasta. The potato gnocchi ($18) features delicate pillows of potato pasta covered by a white bean puree, rapini greens and spicy sausage.
Channelling his larger vision for Inizio, Gibney told us you shouldn’t have to choose between exquisite food and a relaxed atmosphere.
“It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to be either: I go to a shitty bistro for a grilled cheese sandwich or a chicken finger sub, or I go to Sinarta’s and have a ‘white tablecloth’ experience. You can get rid of the white tablecloth and still serve food of high quality.”
That focus on quality doesn’t end with the food. Under the eye of Michelle Merlot, the beverage program at Inizio includes a big focus on Italian wines, spirits and cocktails. Gibney told us a lot of thought went into how the food and drink at Inizio are meant to provide guests with the ideal dining experience. He also said the restaurant will continue to evolve as summer transitions into autumn.
“We don’t know exactly what our relationship to the community is going to be yet,” Gibney said. “I envision it being a place where you can come and have a special night celebrating a special occasion, and also a place where you can duck in for a quick bowl of pasta.
“In general, we want people to leave here feeling good; not drunk, not overstuffed, but pleasantly buzzed, very comfortable and satisfied.”
534 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo, NY 14222
Hours: Monday to Thursday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday CLOSED