The most exciting new restaurants of 2009 are all Italian. But that may be the only thing they have in common: Whether an elegant L.A. dining room, a cheese-centric spot in the Art Institute of Chicago or a trattoria from a star chef in a New York City suburb, each place is unique. Here, a sneak preview of the dishes we can’t wait to try.

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson: Il Caffè at Frasca Food and Wine • Boulder, CO

Antipasto Salad

At tiny Frasca Food and Wine, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (an F&W Best New Chef 2005) is famous for his Friulian food. When Frasca moves to a bigger space, he’ll open a casual café serving dishes like chopped salads made with greens grown on the roof.

Andy Nusser: Tarry Lodge • Port Chester, NY

Fusilli Alla Crazy Bastard

Fans of überchef Mario Batali have had to travel to major cities—New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles—to eat at his restaurants. But now Batali has opened Tarry Lodge in the New York City suburb of Port Chester, and he’s tapped one of his best chefs, Andy Nusser (Babbo and Casa Mono), to run it. In the century-old former speakeasy, Nusser serves a stellar Italian trattoria menu that he describes as “classic except for a few crazy spins.”

Nate Appleman: Urbino • San Francisco

Prosciutto-Cheese Piadina and Butternut Squash–Pecorino Piadina
Credit: © John Kernick

When Urbino opens, it will be San Francisco’s hottest restaurant, and not just because it’s from the team that created A16 and SPQR, two of the city’s best Italian spots. Chef and co-owner Nate Appleman will focus on the food of central Italy’s Marche region, particularly its meat dishes—butchering whole animals, curing salumi and making pastas and sandwiches like piadina.

Michael White: Marea • New York City

Grilled Mackerel with Sicilian Caper-Tomato Salsa

Michael White has two smash NYC restaurants, southern Italian Convivio and northern Italian Alto. So for Marea, which opens this spring, he’ll combine both regions and focus on seafood. “Italy is surrounded by water, so of course seafood is all-important,” he says. Marea will be decidedly high-end, from the wild fish White is sourcing to the prime location on Central Park South.

Celestino Drago: Drago Centro • Los Angeles

Focaccia-Stuffed Squab with Bean Stew

For the past 18 years, Celestino Drago (an F&W Best New Chef 1993) has opened great restaurants around L.A., like Drago Ristorante. Drago Centro is his most ambitious yet. Anchored by an enormous glass wine-storage tower, it specializes in updated Italian food, like the squab: “It’s traditional to stuff birds with plain bread,” Drago says, “but I like to use focaccia with herbs; it’s nicer.”

David Myers: Ortica • Los Angeles

For his upcoming Tuscan-focused spot across the street from his Sona restaurant, David Myers (an F&W Best New Chef 2003) wants to create a homey atmosphere with mismatched chairs and plates. “My dream is to have a butcher deliver to us every day, like in Italy,” he says.

Tony Mantuano: Terzo Piano • Chicago

Tony Mantuano of Chicago’s elegant Spiaggia is opening Terzo Piano, a café at the Art Institute of Chicago offering modern, urban cooking. “It will be more Milan than Florence,” he says. Many dishes will feature cheese from the amazing floor-to-ceiling cave, like this terrific frittata sandwich.


Sommeliers' Favorite Italian Wines

Sommeliers’ Favorite Italian Wines

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

Italian-American Classics