After Tumultuous Year, Karen Akunowicz Announces New Restaurant Devoted to Southern Italy
Last March, Karen Akunowicz was facing the temporary closure of her first restaurant, Fox & the Knife, in Boston. A little over a year later, she's opening her second: Bar Volpe. It's set to launch by the fall, just blocks from her first.
Like Fox & the Knife, Bar Volpe will be a thesis on Italy. Years ago Akunowicz spent a year in Modena, making tortellini. The region inspired her first restaurant, an homage to the terrestrial meats of Emilia-Romagna, with its many permutations of pork fat. The restaurant earned Akunowicz a Food & Wine Best New Restaurant title in 2019, on the heels of a James Beard Award win the year before. And since the pandemic, it's been selling out of fresh-made pasta daily.
Bar Volpe, by contrast, features Rome downwards, and the more seafood-heavy, vegetable-forward fare of the south. The offerings will be parlayed with Akunowicz's surgical regional specificity: culurgiones, that plump, potato-stuffed Sardianian pasta, and orecchiette, shaped just so. As always, her cuisine allows an occasional extraneous influence in service of flavor, gleaned from her prior experiences at Myers + Chang and the Turkish-inflected Oleana. At Fox & the Knife, for example, the clam-studded spaghetti alle vongole is boiled in dashi, to highlight its maritime brine. And the chicken stuffed with lemon and rosemary butter is sprinkled with sumac, to strengthen notes of citrus.
"We make the pasta very traditionally and cook it very traditionally," Akunowicz says. "However, as chefs, we're always thinking about how you reinforce flavors. How do you make something taste even more of what it is?"
The first time she went to Italy, she was 21. "And I was like, 'I have to come back here. I have to live here because I need to understand this culture. I need to understand this more,'" she says. After she went back a second time to stage in Modena, she knew she wanted to open a restaurant showcasing it—and dreamed about it for over a decade.
But her self-imposed dedication to regionality has also felt limiting. "As chefs, we're creative by nature," Akunowicz says. "'Like oh, I would love to do this thing—remember that dish that we had in Sicily?' Or, 'I really want to have a pasta shop in the restaurant.' And the reality of it is we don't have space for that."
At Bar Volpe, there's more room for everything—5,200 square feet of it, complete with an in-house pastificio, or pasta shop, theatrically encased in glass. "Pasta is definitely the heart of the restaurant," Akunowicz says, and "the wood-fire grill is sort of the soul."
The chef hopes that by the time it opens this fall, we'll be able to enjoy it at full capacity—inside and out.