Chef Giovanni Rocchio offers sneak peek at menu for new upscale Flagler Village restaurant Holly Blue

A new restaurant that is edged by a killer deck and shares a wall and ownership with a large nightclub in Fort Lauderdale’s funky Flagler Village comes with certain assumptions.

But Holly Blue will not be a place to grab a quick burger before the club. There are no plastic cups. Tuesday will be Tuesday at Holly Blue, not Taco Tuesday.

In the hands of celebrated Executive Chef Giovanni Rocchio, Holly Blue will bring an ambitious, elevated dining experience to Flagler Village, distinguished by Rocchio’s incomparable housemade pastas, artfully plated dishes and relatively expensive prices. Holly Blue is on track to open in early November

The 220-seat, indoor-outdoor restaurant is part of a multimillion-dollar remodel of the historic First Evangelical Lutheran Church on Northeast Third Avenue. The former nave of the church will be home to a two-story nightclub called The Angeles.

Chef Giovanni Rocchio, left, and owner David Cardaci outside the former First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Flagler Village in March. Construction is set to finish in November with the opening of Holly Blue restaurant and The Angeles nightclub.

Chef Giovanni Rocchio, left, and owner David Cardaci outside the former First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Flagler Village in March. Construction is set to finish in November with the opening of Holly Blue restaurant and The Angeles nightclub. (Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Rocchio says that as the design of the church transformation has evolved, aspirations for both sides of the property have become more sophisticated.

“There’s no more exposed beam-work, trusses or electric anymore. It’s kind of gone into a more upscale brasserie look. That is allowing us to go a little more high-end on the menu, a little more fine dining,” Rocchio says of Holly Blue, named for a butterfly.

“That goes hand in hand with the club. It’s not like it’s going to be a young kids club and everybody gets in. It’s going to be more exclusive,” he says.

Rocchio is best known for his years as owner-chef of four-star Fort Lauderdale restaurant Valentino Cucina Italiana and companion eatery One Door East, which earned a loyal following for a dynamic global tapas menu.

Chef Giovanni Rocchio says he's

Chef Giovanni Rocchio says he’s “excited to get back in the game” at Holly Blue in Flagler Village. (Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Rocchio says he will bring elements from his former menus to Holly Blue and expects the new restaurant to appeal to old fans and new residents in Flagler Village.

“It’s not as, what’s the word, stuffy as Valentino’s was. We’re still casual. I think we’re attractive in [Flagler Village] and the 25- to 40-year-olds that live in all those high-rises,” he says.

Rocchio says the “international American” menu and prices at Holly Blue are still a work in progress, but there will be 25 items, from appetizers and salads through meat and fish entrees and a rotating pair of pasta dishes. The old Valentino menu listed main courses for $34-$49 and pastas $24-$36.

“Food has gone up considerably since I left the industry,” he says. “I like to work with the best product, so I think [prices will be] moderately expensive. To me it’s worth it, sourcing out the right ingredients.”

The menu at Holly Blue will include raw fish preparations and dishes created in a state-of-the-art wok, such as pad Thai and XO fried rice, a Rocchio favorite.

One new dish that excites Rocchio is a sous vide short ribs entrée.

“We’ve never done this step, but it’s very interesting — 72 hours sous vide at a low temperature, then we’re going to pair it with a mole sauce, which is Mexican. That’s going to be one of my favorite dishes,” he says.

Rocchio’s preparation of his housemade pasta is something of a sacred ritual (the results “should place him among the nation’s culinary elite,” Mayo wrote), and he is limiting himself to two at a time.

The opening menu will include ricotta cavatelli, with braised osso buco and porcini mushrooms, and Rocchio’s legendary trofie pasta, with a seafood Bolognese that includes rock shrimp, scallops, peas and garbanzo beans.

“It’s one of my favorites, honestly. A lot of people love it,” he says.

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After a couple of years spent surfing and playing pickup basketball, Rocchio says he’s “excited to get back in the game.”

“Last time, working too hard, 14 hours a day, six days a week, there was no balance. And then not working at all, except either surfing or playing basketball, that’s not really a reason to get up either. So I guess I’m going to try to find balance in my life at 55,” he says.

Rocchio will be spending fewer hours in the kitchen and more in the front of the house greeting customers, which he enjoys. Helping him in the kitchen will be his former sous chef, Darko Meduric.

“He compliments me very well, because he’s excellent at plating. That’s his forte,” Rocchio says. “He’s a hard worker, and he cares about his art, so it’s going to be pretty food and great tasting food.”

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