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Best New Italian Spots

The Italian-restaurant trend is unstoppable. F&W's Kelly Snowden names the most thrilling new places all across America, and F&W's Megan Krigbaum offers a dispatch from Italy.
Best Italian Restaurants


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America

New York City: A Voce Columbus

Restaurant offshoots don't tend to get buzz, but the second A Voce has generated as much as the first did. "I never expected we'd get this much attention," says chef Missy Robbins. Credit the incredible view, new dishes like pancetta with pork belly and figs, and bottles like the 2006 Ornellaia Le Volte ($58) on wine director Olivier Flosse's impossibly deep list.

New York City: Maialino

Owner Danny Meyer led Gramercy Tavern alum Nick Anderer on an epic five-meal-a-day tour of Rome to research dishes like malfatti al maialino (suckling-pig ragù with hand-torn pasta and arugula). The almost-exclusively Italian wine list includes finds like the earthy 2001 Bovio Barbera d'Alba Regiaveja ($52).

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Philadelphia: Amis

Marc Vetri (an F&W Best New Chef 1999) is a master of sophisticated Italian, but lately, he's been skewing casual. His newest place, Amis, specializes in Roman comfort food. Vetri got the idea during a meal at Rome's La Matriciana restaurant: "I was floored by the simplicity of the flavors," he says. Amis's industrial-chic space doesn't look like a trattoria, but dishes like the gnocchi alla romana with oxtail ragù convey an authentically rustic feeling. The succinct wine list has just two dozen Italian bottles, and all are available by the glass, like the minerally 2008 Bonci Carpaneto Verdicchio ($44), which reminds sommelier Jeff Benjamin of the Adriatic Coast.

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Minneapolis: Bar La Grassa

Chef Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery opened his latest place in part so he could cook pasta every which way: "Dry and fresh pastas both have their merits. I get to showcase them side by side." Becker uses dry Rustichella d'Abruzzo pasta for dishes like his rigatoni with milk-braised chicken and makes fresh pasta handkerchiefs to serve in a pesto sauce with whole basil leaves. The wine list covers the globe but is strong on Italy, as evidenced by bottles like the 2007 Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d'Asti ($36) from up-and-coming winemaker Stefano Perrone.

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San Francisco: Tony's Pizza Napoletana

Tony Gemignani won the Naples World Pizza Cup, earning him true pizza cred. His new restaurant, which is connected to a school that helps prospective pizzaiolos get certified by the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, churns out pies from three different types of ovens—wood-burning, electric brick and gas brick. Each day, Gemignani makes exactly 73 of the Margherita that won him the cup, as well as California-style pizzas with jalapeños and hot sauce and New York pies covered with sausage and peppers. Wines come from Napa and Italy, with picks like the cherry-inflected 2007 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($42) from Sicily.

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New Orleans: Domenica

Alon Shaya, formerly of Besh Steak, partnered with F&W Best New Chef 1999 John Besh on this homey Italian restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel. Shaya worked in kitchens around Italy for a year to develop the menu, which includes house specialties like limoncello, salumi and pasta. Then there are the pizzas, made in a Pavesi wood-fired oven with a rotating stone deck. "Ours is new and the only one of its kind in America," Shaya says. He uses pecan wood in the Pavesi for pizzas like his cotechino, topped with oven-dried tomatoes, scallions and pork sausage. Matching the food is an all-Italian wine list with well-priced bottles like the delicate 2007 Inama Vin Soave ($40).

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Chicago: Cibo Matto

Local foodies rarely travel downtown, but the new Wit Hotel is actually drawing them in with the recently launched Cibo Matto. Chicago native Todd Stein uses local products like Lake Superior whitefish, which he serves with saffron-scented fregola and crispy parsnips. The restaurant's airy design by the Johnson Studio, which also did TRU restaurant, includes a 4,000-bottle glass tower. The wine list is seasonal, with more whites in the summer and a red-heavy lineup in the winter, and bottles like the 2008 Grosjean Frères Pinot Noir ($59) from a family winery in the Italian Alps.

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Houston: Stella Sola

What do Texas and Tuscany have in common? "Big, bold flavors," says Bryan Caswell (an F&W Best New Chef 2009). At Stella Sola, Caswell's chef de cuisine, Justin Basye, creates hybrid dishes like bucatini carbonara with Gulf crab, as well as wood-roasted mussels with salsa verde; wines include Italian standouts like the hard-to-find 2008 Vietti Roero Arneis ($30).

Italy

Friuli: Antico Foledor Conte Lovaria

Thirty-year-old chef Antonia Klugmann likes to update rustic dishes that recall her childhood in Trieste. Her favorite dish: venison with cabbage, persimmon and chocolate (Trieste's Austrian roots give it an affinity for chocolate, she says). Sommelier Romano De Feo, Klugmann's fiancé, collaborates on her daily tasting menus, offering local choices like the crisp 2008 Lis Neris Jurosa Chardonnay and the dark 2007 Borgo delle Oche Refosco. Next winter, the pair will open a new place, L'Argine a Vencò, in an old water mill in nearby Cividale.

Piedmont: La Rei

Alba is known for white truffles, amazing wine and little inns—not for anything as modern as Il Boscareto, a large and luxurious new resort and spa. Sommelier Matteo Toso's wine list at the resort's restaurant, La Rei, is just as outsize. It reads like a tribute to the region's star grape, Nebbiolo, with a huge selection of Barolos from nearly 50 of the greatest producers—from Conterno Fantino to Angelo Gaja—many of whom have made La Rei their hangout. To go with the wines are chef Chen Shiqin's traditional Piedmontese dishes. Shiqin has trained for 10 years with consulting chef Gian Piero Vivalda at his famed Michelin two-star Antica Corona Reale da Renzo, perfecting classics like beef stew cooked in Barolo and tajarin egg pasta with loads of shaved truffles. Up next: La Briccolina, a wine bar opening this summer.

Sicily: Cucina

Palermo's Cucina, just off the Politeama Piazza, attracts celebrities and politicians for its osteria-style Sicilian cuisine. To go with chef Roberto Giannettino's comfort dishes, Cucina serves just two local wines—red (Nero d'Avola) and white (a Catarratto-Inzolia blend) from nearby Spadafora winery— in charming flask-like decanters popular in Sicilian restaurants. Favorite local dishes: macco, a superfresh fava-bean soup; and a vibrant Sicilian salad of oranges, fennel and herring.

Tuscany: La Fornace di Meleto

Located in a 16th-century stone building that was once used for baking bricks, La Fornace di Meleto sits surrounded by vineyards at the base of Chianti's 13th-century Castello di Meleto. Open just two years, it's run by sommelier Valentina Stiaccini and chef Diego Babboni, who at age 31 has been cooking for 15 years, starting at his family's restaurant in Pietrasanta. His menu is divided into two parts: a section of classic Tuscan dishes like bistecca alla fiorentina, and one with more inventive options, like gnocchi with chestnuts and coffee over cannellini beans. The wine list is primarily Tuscan, highlighting bottles from the Castello di Meleto winery, like the spicy 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva.

Campania: Morabianca

Mastroberardino winery owner Piero Mastroberardino spent 10 years buying up little parcels of land to get enough space to open his dream hotel and golf course, Radici. Its restaurant, Morabianca, stocks many vintages of Mastroberardino's wines—some available nowhere else—to go with chef Francesco Spagnuolo's updated regional dishes, like pork cooked with honey and Aglianico.

Published April 2010
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