By John Burton
RED BANK – Giovanni Bougdour wants his new customers and returning ones, to know his restaurant is new but still the same.
“Same food, same prices, same service,” he said of his San Remo restaurant. “Now you’re going to a more elegant place.”
That “more elegant place” is Bougdour’s new location at 115 Oakland St., across from the NJ Transit commuter rail station, that he opened earlier this month.
“We’ve always had a following who came for the food, but now we have the nice location for them to enjoy, too,” he said.
Bougdour operated his original San Remo Italian restaurant at 37 Newman Springs Road in Shrewsbury for nearly 17 years. There, he developed a loyal following of customers who have come to expect his particular spin on what he called “traditional Italian nouveau cuisine.”
But the Shrewsbury location was leased on a month-to-month basis, which left him at the whim of his landlord, he said.
In 2010 Bougdour purchased the new location at the corner of Oakland Street and Bridge Avenue and has been working ever since. He has remade the restaurant to his specific design and addressed a long list of requirements for construction and planning approvals, he said.
The location was home to the Little Kraut German restaurant for decades and then went on for a short while to be Oakbridge Tavern.
The space now has been designed to Bougdour’s specifications with a European-style decor in dark wood with soft-colored paints in a location appropriate for his culinary creations, he said.
The site can accommodate up to about 60 in its main dining room and another 60 in its upstairs room, intended for private parties and overflow dining. During nice weather, Bougdour has plans for some outdoor dining in a rear garden area that will be landscaped in time for the season.
Bougdour, who is of Moroccan heritage, was born and raised near Milan in Italy. It is where his parents owned their own restaurant for many years. Bougdour went to culinary school in Italy for three years and worked and studied under French and Italian chefs.
He came to United States in 1992, moving to New York, where he opened a pizza place in Staten Island, before relocating to Brick and opening San Remo in Shrewsbury.
Bougdour puts his own spin on traditional Italian fare. While he offers a selection of veal, chicken and seafood dishes that are familiar in Italian eateries, his will often have lighter, less tomato-laden sauces that leave his clientele satisfied but not stuffed, he said.
One of his personal favorites is branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass, which Bougdour bakes and serves in a light pesto sauce. For his pasta he prefers a marechiara tomato sauce, saying it is really “just a touch of tomato,” and doesn’t overpower the dish. “If it’s too much, you’re eating the tomato, not the fish,” he said.
Bougdour offers a variety of pastas, including gluten-free and whole-wheat varieties. He also makes his own risotto and desserts, including cheesecake and cannoli, daily.
His role as the executive chef and owner allows him to be involved in all aspects of the operation and preparation, making a difference that customers can recognize, Bougdour said. He regularly updates the menu, fine-tuning recipes with small changes based upon the feedback he gets from customers and staff.
“It’s all about giving the customers the best experience possible, making for a nice night out for a good meal,” he said.
San Remo is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays.