In November 2014, chef Michael Toscano declared his intentions to leave Manhattan for Charleston. Toscano was the executive chef behind Perla, Montmartre, and Jeffrey's Grocery in New York, so it was assumed he would eventually grace the Lowcountry with a restaurant. Rumors swelled around the city, and at the beginning of 2016, he and wife Caitlin announced they would take over the former Leaf space and transform it into Italian restaurant Le Farfalle.
“Once we moved down in May, we started looking for space,” says Michael, “And I also spent that time consulting.” It took the Toscanos nine months to find the available address 15 Beaufain St., but it only required five months to unlock the door. “It was miraculous by Charleston standards,” says Caitlin, “We had to open.”
The couple’s favorite moment came when they received their certificate of occupancy an hour before the permit office closed, on a Friday, because it meant it was real. It meant they could hold service that evening.
It almost didn’t happen though. A week before Le Farfalle’s opening night, the city told the Toscanos that the restaurant had to change the placement of the front door, because the liqour license would be denied since the entrance was 270 feet from Memminger Elementary — the law requires it to be 300 feet away. The team was upset, because they had to scramble to make the side entrance work, but now Michael says he enjoys that guests get to walk through the outdoor patio with lush greenscape to come into the restaurant.
The restaurant opened with little staff,” Caitlin says, “There were times that the our two kids and I slept in the office.”
When asked if they had any concerns about bringing an Italian restaurant to Charleston, Michael says, “I didn’t have concerns, but we were definitely going to pay attention to when we were dining out here. I can’t do as much offal or some of the other things I was doing in New York.” Caitlin says, “We didn’t come here because we thought it was a tiny New York. We came here because it wasn’t New York.”
The menu hasn’t changed much since day one. “The entrees are a bit more simpler now,” says Michael,” He found that Charleston wasn’t about cold preparations like a chilled brodo “We accepted the pasta-heavy ordering,” he says, “In the beginning, it was all pasta, all the time, but that has changed over the year.”
The initial reviews for Le Farfalle were a bit mixed. Michael says it didn’t get them down. “It never changed our goals. It never changed what we were doing. In any restaurant opening that I’ve been a part of, there’s always something. We don’t get mad at them. We try to use the information and become better because of it.” Micheal admits to reading all the reviews, including Yelp and TripAdvisor. “Especially being in a new place, we listen to everything. We analyze all the comments. There were great reviews and not-so-great reviews and we took them on head first.” Caitlin says, “No one is going to make us work harder than ourselves.”
For year two, the Toscanos will continue to refine Le Farfalle and focus on everything they learned in year one.
• Michael Toscano to Leave Perla, Montmartre, and Jeffrey's Grocery in the New Year [ENY]
• Chef Michael Toscano Will Transform Leaf Into Italian Restaurant Le Farfalle [ECHS]
• A Tale of Two Le Farfalles: Critic vs. Critic [ECHS]