Pasta and Italy are forever linked—perhaps to the point of an exhausted cliche—but these restaurants give the cuisine a more focused treatment by zeroing in on specific Italian regions for parts of their menus.
As a kid, Erbaluce chef/owner Charles Draghi spent two months every summer visiting his relatives in Salogni, a town located in the region of Piedmont. “It was the best time of my life,” Draghi says. “The food was simple but so fantastic.” While Draghi recreates some Piemontese favorites such as a rabbit ragu and minestrone-like soup at his Bay Village eatery, a basic lesson from his Italian aunts dictates his kitchen’s ingredients. “They would take the butter they made to another village. They would call it city food,” he says. Decades later and an ocean away, Draghi never uses butter at Erbaluce.
With a close proximity to the Mediterranean and a rich, centuries-old fishing culture, Ligurian cuisine often utilizes high-quality yet simple ingredients as the main component of a dish. That signature method is on display at Bar Mezzana, which turns out housemade focaccia, ravioli Genovese and troffie pasta Genovese. “Liguria embodies what we try to accomplish in cooking,” says Bar Mezzana executive chef/partner Colin Lynch. “Take a simple ingredient and try not to mess it up too much.”
While many of the dishes at Cinquecento are modern interpretations of Italian classics, they’re deeply rooted in Lazio tradition. “There is no better place in Italy, or most of Europe, to find diverse and rare food than throughout the Lazio region, and for Cinquecento, most importantly in Rome,” says Aquitaine Group founder Seth Woods. Cinquecento’s menu currently offers three dishes that reflect the Lazio region, specifically Rome: saltimbocca, bucatini alla carbonara and carciofi alla giudia.
East of Rome, the Abruzzo region’s varied geography lends to diverse cuisine, but Prezza nods to the mountainous area by featuring polenta. Chef Anthony Caturano recalls a childhood filled with “polenta parties,” where the porridge was stirred for hours before being poured onto a wooden board in the center of the table. Get in on the celebration with the North End spot’s spicy mussels and crispy zucchini flowers.
The cuisine at the Daily Catch’s three locations reflects the valleys of Sicily that Paul Freddura’s parents emigrated from in the early 20th century. With fishing a major industry in Sicily, many of Daily Catch’s dishes include fresh seafood with simple ingredients such as olive oil, lemon, garlic and vinegars. And the black pasta that’s popular in Sicily also gets plenty of use at the Daily Catch, with an entire section devoted to housemade linguine made with squid ink and prepared in a variety of ways.