A rustic Italian restaurant in a converted firehouse outside Boston, a chef-focused market in Alexandria, Va., a "Departure" from the norm in downtown Portland, Ore., and a Chicago bistro and patisserie from a world-champion pastry chef are just some new ventures on the restaurant scene this spring.
Spotlight on: il Casale
Il Casale, which means "rural home" in Italian, opens its doors today. The rustic, Italian-style restaurant and bar in the Boston suburb of Belmont, Mass., is the brainchild of brothers Dante, Damian and Filippo deMagistris. Its space at 50 Leonard St. was once a firehouse on the street where the deMagistris brothers grew up. Chef/owner Dante deMagistris, who also owns Restaurant Dante in Cambridge, Mass., found a few minutes last month to chat with Chef about the concept behind his second restaurant.
(l to r) brothers and co-owners Filippo, Damian and chef Dante deMagistris launched il Casale this week
Chef: Why did you choose to open il Casale in Belmont?
deMagistris: I grew up here, and my family is here. My brothers and I always wanted to open a restaurant together, and Boston is a great city of good food that we are happy to be a part of as it grows. We were actually looking at the old firehouse even before we opened Dante in Cambridge three years ago.
Chef: How does the name il Casale represent the concept you hope to convey through your food?
deMagistris: We had originally thought of something more contemporary, but I think times have changed. People want to be relaxed--the rustic feel is better than a more contemporary style, which is working for us in Cambridge. We're serving more rustic, old-school Italian food at il Casale. It makes sense because we would do peasant-style Italian food on the same block when we were growing up--there's a strict style and technique to it.
Chef: How do you hope to distinguish yourselves when there are so many Italian-American restaurants today?
deMagistris: That is the hardest part. Even when we opened [Dante] in Cambridge, we tried not to peg ourselves as "Italian." I grew up cooking with my Italian grandma after school. She came from a family of all boys and wanted to pass on her recipes to someone, which happened to be me. There were certain points where I'd try to get a little creative in the kitchen, and she'd slap my hand, saying, "That's the wrong pan!" Or, "You're supposed to use a wooden spoon!" The rules are there for a reason.
We have people who come in asking, "Where's the Chicken Parmesan?" We have Chicken Milanese on the menu--we don't call it Chicken Parmesan because it is a classic dish of Milano, Italy. It is a challenge, absolutely. We have Italians who want the real thing, and we get tourists looking for something that doesn't intimidate. So we try to offer traditional Italian food with a twist. I went through a phase where I was making gnocchi all different ways--with lentils or sweet potatoes. But it really doesn't get any better than the traditional recipe, so we may get creative with the sauce instead. People appreciate tradition, the way it used to be and why it stays that way. With il Casale, we want to make the food more accessible and focus on the quality of ingredients.
Il Casale is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Visit www.ilcasalebelmont.com, call (617) 209-4942.
The Butcher's Block, a Market by RW
Located next door to chef Robert Wiedmaier's restaurants Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room, nestled in Old Alexandria, Va., The Butcher's Block, a Market by RW, opened April 3. Wiedmaier's chef-driven market offers artisanal cheese; international beer and wine; charcuterie, sausages and terrines; prime cuts of rib-eye, lamb tenderloin, pork loin and rabbit; desserts; and home cooking accessories. Wiedmaier locally sources much of the meat, offering braised lamb shank and beef carbonnade along with his signature sauces that can be heated at home. Locals and Lorien Hotel & Spa guests alike can also grab seasonal salads, warm baguettes and freshly made sandwiches to go.
The Butcher’s Block, a Market by RW, is located at 1600 King Street in Alexandria, Va., adjacent to the Lorien Hotel & Spa. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Visit www.braborestaurant.com, or call (703) 894-5253.
Departure Restaurant + Lounge
Restaurateur and COO of Sage Restaurant Group Peter Karpinski brought his vision of urban escapism to the top floor of the Nines luxury hotel with Departure Restaurant + Lounge, a modern Asian restaurant that entered the Portland, Ore., dining scene on March 27. Karpinski tapped chef Bryan Emperor to create the menu of traditional Asian cuisine with modern sophistication. Leveraging the experience and relationships built over two decades working and cooking in China and Japan, Emperor uses both locally sourced and imported ingredients to highlight authentic coastal cuisines found throughout Southeast Asia as well as Japanese-style Izakaya, a casual dining experience.
Departure, located on the 15th floor of the Nines at 525 SW Morrison St., serves dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Visit www.departureportland.com, or call (503) 802-5370.
LB Bistro & Patisserie
Chef Laurent Branlard, two-time winner of the World Pastry Championship, has opened his first full-service dining venture in Chicago. LB Bistro & Patisserie showcases the Frenchman's talent for simple yet unique flavor combinations using fresh ingredients. Patrons can customize their breakfast or lunch or opt for signature items such as crepes, Strawberry Cream Cheese French toast, the Green Chile Turkey Melt and the Smokey Cobb Salad. And it may be hard to resist dessert, with such available items as Mille Feuille Framboise (a fresh raspberry napoleon, caramelized puff pastry and light vanilla cream with raspberry sorbet) or Apple Tatin Lasagna (oven-roasted apple layers, milk-caramel cinnamon sorbet and orange caramel sauce).
LB Bistro & Patisserie is located in the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers at 301 East North Water St. Open daily for breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit www.sheratonchicago.com, or call (312) 329-5900.
Situated in Midtown Atlanta, WaterHaven, opening for dinner on May 12, offers a break from the urban bustle with regionally inspired American fare amid walnut and green hues and expansive window walls. Executive chef Chris Lee, a Memphis Culinary Academy graduate who has worked with Wolfgang Puck and Gary Danko, among others, offers a menu that highlights local farmers and purveyors. Dishes like Painted Hills hanger steak with house-cut fries and caramelized Vidalia onions and fresh Georgia trout wrapped in apple wood-smoked bacon evoke the freshest flavors of the season and display the farm-to-table philosophy of restaurant owner Joe McCarthy.
Located at 75 Fifth Street NW, Midtown Atlanta. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., with small plates available all day until 11 p.m. Closed Sundays. Visit www.waterhavenatl.com, or call (404) 214-1424.
It's not every day aromas of coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger fill the thin Denver air, but Bombay Bowl creator Amar Singh hopes his fast-casual restaurant concept will bring a taste of Indian street vendor food to Colorado. Opening this month, Bombay Bowl offers quick-service custom Indian-style bowls, roti wraps, grilled meat and vegetables, tofu, fresh-baked naan and homemade chai.
Bombay Bowl is located at 12023 E. Arapahoe Road, Centennial, Colo. Visit www.bombaybowl.com, or call (303) 339-5500.