The famed West Orange restaurant has new owners (the Frungillo Family acquired it in April), a new name (the Highlawn Pavilion is now simply the Highlawn) and is in the process of a new look (the restaurant and menu are getting a refresh).
This week, the Frungillo Family announced what may prove to be the biggest changes: It has hired renowned culinary director and executive chef Sam Hazen – along with sous chef Michael Aiello and general manager Salvatore Feli.
The restaurant, located atop Essex County Eagle Rock Reservation, is well known for its fine dining and special events in a location that features world-class views. CEO Anthony Frungillo said these hires will have great impact as the food and ambience will celebrate and grow on what has made The Highlawn a premier destination in the state.
“The perfect dining experience is only as exemplary as the team that builds it and procures the incredible cuisine to compliment the overall guest visit,” Frungillo said. “With chef Hazen leading the charge in the kitchen with chef Aiello and Feli curating a superior dining ambiance, we’re thrilled to reopen in the coming months to begin offering an unmatched experience for new and returning Highlawn guests.”
Frungillo said the restaurant will relaunch in September.
Under the direction of Hazen, the new menu will blend classic fine dining and welcoming modern refinement, featuring prime, dry-aged steaks, Italian favorites and local seafood. The dining room culinary selections and relaxed bistro options available in the bar area and patio are designed to complement the Manhattan skyline views and lush greenery that surrounds the venue, he said.
Hazen has worked in some of the world’s most celebrated kitchens throughout his career – from Michelin-starred restaurants and the world’s most upscale fine dining destinations to trendy burger bars, breweries, brasseries and even a Baja-style cantina.
His career boasts positions at La Côte Basque, the Quilted Giraffe, Terrace on the Sky, Cascabel and Tavern on the Green in New York City – as well as Le Gavroche, le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Waterside in England. He is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America.
In addition to serving as culinary director at BR Guest in NYC, Hazen is also credited with building two influential culinary successes: TAO New York and TAO Las Vegas, which continue to be among the highest grossing restaurants worldwide. While at TAO, he also conceived and opened Rue 57, Avra, and Bolzano’s.
“I’m excited to begin working with the team to breathe new life into a modern and inviting menu full of new twists on classic favorites, created to be accessible and enjoyable for a wide audience of fine dining patrons,” Hazan said.
Aiello has more than a decade of experience working as sous chef in some of the most illustrious high-volume restaurants in NYC, including Rockefeller Center’s Rock Center Café and The Sea Grill, where he developed new menus and specials as well as expedited daily lunch and dinner service for up to 800 guests.
Aiello also served as executive chef at the storied NYC steakhouse Palm Too, executive sous chef at historic NYC theatre district mainstay The Lambs Club under chef Geoffrey Zakarian, Food Network personality and co-host of The Kitchen. Aiello most recently served as sous chef at Ferris in the Made Hotel in Chelsea.
Feli is a veteran of fine dining and hospitality operations, having served as senior vice president of operations for Estiatorio Milos, widely recognized as one of the world’s finest Mediterranean seafood restaurants, as well as vice president of operations at classic French Riviera restaurant Fig & Olive.
Feli also has robust experience leading operations at major hospitality groups, including serving as director of operations at the iconic TAO Group, chief operating officer at Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group, and vice president operations at The ONE Group.