For some, it takes years to find their passion. For Afrim Berisha, it all started from an early age.
Born and brought up in the restaurant industry, Berisha is a man who always has been passionate about food and hospitality. “My career started at a young age in my family’s restaurant. As time went on and as I moved up through the different roles, I quickly picked up the skills required to run a restaurant,” he says.
Berisha, who is Albanian, credits his success as a restauranteur to his upbringing and the influence of his cultural background. “Albanians are known to be very hospitable people. Service is crucial and makes all the difference in providing a memorable dining experience,” he says. “We want people to have a great time from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.”
Berisha has opened many restaurants throughout his career — with the promise of more to come. He is best known for the beloved Bistro Seven Three, a lively European bistro in the heart of Bernardsville. His latest venture, Toca Vez, a Mexican-inspired steakhouse, recently opened.
The restaurant, which was formerly known as The Giraffe for over 20 years, and more recently as Vine was acquired by Berisha and Enjoy with Gusto, a successful hospitality group that owns multiple restaurants and hotels. Having worked together in the very early days of their respective careers, the paths of both Berisha and Mick Gjevukaj, founder of Enjoy with Gusto, find their professional paths crossing once again.
Those familiar with The Giraffe and Vine are unlikely to recognize its new iteration: The nearly century-old building has been taken down to the studs and completely renovated inside and out. Exciting new features include custom-designed-and-built light fixtures and furniture, custom-painted murals and biophilic art installations fabricated on-site. Uniquely designed bars on the lower and upper levels and a completely redesigned exposed kitchen are just a few of the spectacular details waiting to be experienced.
“At Toca Vez,” Berisha says, “expect to be amazed.”
While the restaurant is focused on being a steakhouse with all the classic carnivorous favorites, it also includes a raw bar and offers Mexican-inspired cuisine, such as ceviche, tacos and guacamole. In addition, diners can enjoy libations from its tequila bar with creative, hand-crafted cocktails that extend far beyond the classic margarita, which are served up by a mixologist whose goal is enticing and satisfying the palette.
As far as how this culinary fusion came to be, Berisha says it’s all about offering something new while satisfying demand.
“I’ve been in the area for 30 years and been doing business here for 20,” he says. “There have been steakhouses or Mexican restaurants, but it’s been one or the other — never both together.”
As you peruse the menu, Berisha insists one thing is for certain: “From the service to the food and drinks, you’ll have an exceptional experience.”
El Vaquero (The Cowboy)
1/2 oz turmeric-infused agave
1 oz Abasolo Mexican Whisky
1/2 oz Espadin Mezcal
1/2 oz Mandarine Napoleon Liqueur
3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
Make the agave syrup: Put a 2:1 agave/water ratio in a saucepan. Cut 3 to 4 small pieces of turmeric. Simmer the ingredients until the agave and water have combined. Boil for approximately 10 minutes to let the turmeric Infuse into the ingredients. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir drink for 15 seconds to the appropriate dilution. Strain over a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Garnish with a corn husk.
“We want people to have a great time from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.”