Gaetano Ascione is an Italian-born, globe-trotting chef who just opened a French restaurant in Dormont.

Jean Louis Parisian Bistro and Cocktail Bar is Ascione’s ode to the cuisine that launched his career in the 1970s.

Named after his late mentor, French chef Jean Louis Palladin, the eatery features a menu of classic bistro fare such as steak-frites and foie gras adapted to take advantage of regional ingredients.

Ascione says Pittsburghers don’t fully appreciate all of the culinary treasures they have at their fingertips, including lamb from Jamison Farm in Latrobe and some of the world’s finest and most flavorful mushrooms.

Geographically, the area reminds him of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where he grew up. But, rather than add yet another Italian eatery to Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene, he wanted people to say “Bonjour!” to a different concept.

Located on W. Liberty Avenue in the old Needle & Pin Cocktail Bar & Eatery, the space has undergone a complete Parisian transformation, but Vincent Capuano, former executive chef of the restaurant, will serve as sous chef.

Intimate tables are draped with blue and white checkered tablecloths. Artwork that Ascione has collected during his world travels lines the walls, which are covered in bold, floral wallpaper. Even the kitchen boasts vibrant blues and yellows.

Ascione’s menu focuses on fresh foods from local farms and ranches. Photo courtesy of Jean-Louis Parisian Bistro.
Ascione’s menu focuses on fresh foods from local farms and ranches. Photo courtesy of Jean-Louis Parisian Bistro.

The basement floor is a speakeasy-style lounge with seating for 50 to 60 patrons. Ascione, who worked in a Chicago restaurant that once doubled as Al Capone’s hangout, says he’s trying to capture the aesthetics of the Prohibition-era joint with distressed walls and strong cocktails.

In the near future, he hopes to incorporate a French café into the mix that will serve grab-and-go bites such as baguettes and croissants.

After decades of kitchen experimentation and travel, Ascione is excited to get back to his roots.

He has worked his culinary magic for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan at The George Town Club in Washington, D.C., served as executive chef for the inaugural banquet for South African President Nelson Mandela and has been affiliated with two two-star Michelin restaurants in Cannes, France: La Belle Otero at the Carlton Hotel under chef Francis Chauveau and La Palme D‘or at the Hôtel Martinez under chef Christian Willer.

He’s owned two upscale restaurants in Singapore: Gaetano Restaurant & Petrus Wine Bar, and La Stella Restaurant & Life and was a consultant to the Taj Mahal Group of Hotels in India, the Hilton Seoul in South Korea and the Marchese Piero Antinori of the world-famous Antinori wine family in Tuscany.

The opening chef at the Pennsylvania Market in the Strip District, Ascione left there because he wanted more customer interaction.

Ascione, who is fluent in six languages, says despite his vast experience and accolades, he is still learning and wants to inspire others to do the same. The restaurant will work with the James Beard Foundation, which established an endowment after Palladin’s death in 2001, to continue his legacy.

“A mentor once told me that it takes one second to say ‘I’m a chef.’ but it takes a whole lifetime to become one,” he says. “You are only as good as the last dish you prepare.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.