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I’ll meet you any time you want…

February 16, 2012

When Sean, Aidan and I traveled to Italy last summer we kept hearing the same thing in each city we visited.  Whether talking to a tour guide, waiter or driver the Italian refrain was repeated, “We invented nothing.”  That sentence was used when talking about art, architecture, food, wine or just beauty in general.  It is a line said with respect to all of the inventors, artists, and visionaries that have walked before us, as well as the grandmas in the kitchen, the farmers in the field and all of the Italians over the years who have perfected that beautiful intangible, la dolce vita.   Everything truly enjoyable in Italy is an homage to the past.  Just as Italians claimed to invent nothing, they stated again and again that while they work to perfect what came before them, that nothing is perfect either.  It is about the process, not the destination.  You can not perfect, you can only work towards perfection.  The idea is that we are all just a part of a history or tradition.  It is our role to try to make it better and to pass these things along to the next generation, knowing that they will try to do the same.

“We invented nothing.”  In that sentiment, I found both beauty and perfection.

So, you can imagine that I was not at all surprised that as Chris Bianco was explaining the concept for his new place, Italian Restaurant, that he referenced often not just his past, but how generations of his family influenced the restaurant.  It was very Italian of him. His family is everywhere from the art on the walls to the recipes in the kitchen.  He showed me the line drawings that were done by a great uncle in Rome in the 1940s, each signed on the back and sent to him by an eighty-year-old aunt still living in Rome.  He hung the poster from Venice that was brought back after his family visited there in the 1970s.  There are paintings from his father, just like on the walls of Pizzeria Bianco and Pane Bianco, but Italian Restaurant also has a collection of paintings done by his mother.  There are family photos, including one that Chris says he has always had at the Pizzeria looking over his shoulder.  It is of an uncle who was a fireman in Brooklyn.  It just felt like good luck to have a fireman watching over a restaurant.  Generations of Biancos are found throughout Italian Restaurant.

He wanted Italian Restaurant to be a place where people could come and eat the way he enjoys the most, sitting together and sharing a meal and a little history.  Chris wanted that felt in the menu too.  His mother’s meatballs are featured on the menu and the desserts are from her as well.  His brother Marco is making that famous Bianco bread, the kind that is hard and crusty on the outside with a chewy heart of doughy goodness at its center.   This restaurant does not have the infamous Bianco name on the door, because Chris did not want the restaurant to be about him, or just about his family either.  He wanted his chef, Claudio Urciuoli, to include the recipes that he grew up on, dishes that his mother and grandmother made.  This is about Claudio’s family, and Chris said, it is about ours.  He wants the menu to change regularly, to have dishes that evolve with the seasons from the farm.  This is about our combined story and contributions as chefs and farmers.

Chris wants his customers to share in this and to create a moment for themselves with the people they love.  Each table was carefully planned by Chris, some for the view, some for privacy, some for sharing.  There is a booth for families to gather around and a tiny table for two, for couples who want to huddle close.  There is one next to a window, that can be opened on a nice day, and tables on wheels for when a little rearranging is in order.  Just like you would when you have a little family over.  Like his other restaurants, this feels a little like a home, although maybe more Chris’s mother’s home than his.  His mother told me that Chris took so many things from her house she asked if he was moving out of the country.

We were honored when Chris asked if we would come for an early preview for family and friends before Italian Restaurant opened.  Sean and I brought Aidan with us one night, Bob and Marsha were able to go the next.  (Sometimes that happens when you have a farm.)  Just from one night to the next the dishes changed slightly as Chris had wanted.  Fresh, handmade pastas, beautifully done sauces, combinations that felt inventive and yet traditional and familiar.  We ate as Chris wanted, sharing dishes like shrimp with white beans, a seafood stew, gnocchi with tomato sauce, a chocolate torte so dense and decadent you needed only a bite, but found yourself eating the whole thing anyway.  We had a spinach ricotta ravioli that was out of this world, although I only had two, which was one more than Sean had.  After stabbing one with his fork while we were busy talking, Aidan realized what he had in front of him and almost finished the dish before we could try it.  He then told Chris to make sure ravioli was always on the menu.  It may be, but the next night Bob said it was a butternut squash ravioli and now he and Aidan are in a debate about which was better.  There may be only one way to solve this.  What we all agreed upon was that we wanted to return, and in the few weeks that Italian Restaurant has be open, we have several times already.  (FYI – it recently opened for lunch as well.)

When I asked Chris why it was called Italian Restaurant he pointed to a sign I had seen before at Pizzeria Bianco’s.  He said the sign was given to him when his bought his first bar.  The previous owner had wanted him to have it and he has held onto it ever since.  This added to the history of his newest venture.  Because while the space, the menu, even the faces are new, Chris wanted people to feel the richness of the journey from different families, chefs, recipes, and ideas that led to this place.   And then he said those same words I had heard before, “because we invented nothing.”

‘Italian Restaurant’, that says it all.

Italian Restaurant
4743 N. 20th Street
Phoenix, AZ  85016
(It is tucked back inside the Town & Country shopping center.)

(As an homage to my own past, please someone tell me you caught the Billy Joel reference in this post.  I can’t help but hum along to this tune every time I go.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2012 11:14 pm

    I’m very hungry now. 🙂

  2. February 17, 2012 2:46 am

    A bottle of red, a bottle of white…

  3. Lisa permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:55 am

    Chris and Claudio – what a perfect partnership! Can’t wait to try the new place out.

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