First Looks is a preview of newly opened and soon-to-open restaurants. These are not full reviews, but they should give you a little insight into what the restaurant is like.
If it seems like there are a lot of new restaurants opening right now, you are 100 percent correct. Is there something in the air? The water? The flesh of mammals? It’s hard to tell. But, regardless, diners who were already scrambling to visit the new restaurants that opened last month are already behind on the restaurants that opened this month.
And, in case you’re worried we might be nearly done, there are EVEN MORE restaurants opening in the next few weeks. So get used to seeing a lot of First Looks for a hot minute.
Each new restaurant brings something new to the table, pun definitely intended, as you can see I’ve highlighted it. But there’s something about Piatto Italian Kitchen that might go above and beyond.
Piatto is Enis Mullaliu’s new place and, if you don’t know Enis yet, I think you will. He’s the former general manager of Vast (and if you haven’t heard of that, I’m not doing a very good job) who is striking out on his own with something many Italian food lovers will Italian food love to hear: Piatto is making their own pasta.
If you thought all Italian restaurants made their own pasta, well, no. And if you think the difference between dried and fresh pasta is negligible, well, no again. I mean, think what you want to think, by all means, it’s just that you’d be incorrect on both counts.
Piatto takes over a troubled location, formerly the home of Meat Market Refectory and the (too-short-lived) Union Wood Fire Grill, but it’s nice to see all the investment that was put into the building being used. All three concepts were high end and Piatto seems primed to take advantage of the others’ largesse.
I know I said this up top, but this isn’t a review. And I’m saying that as much for me as I am for you, because I cannot stop staring at Piatto’s menu and have daydreams about Chef Bill Forster’s dishes, Schmitt’s Gay-style.
And I blame our awesome server, frankly, because he definitely led us to a few highlights we would have otherwise missed.
For instance, when I see Ravioli ($15) on a menu, I can scarcely help but yawn. And I mean, literally, the name of this dish is “Ravioli.” It isn’t until you see it in front of you that it even begins to dawn on you how good this is going to be, and just wait until you smell and taste it.
Made in-house (like all the pasta), this ravioli is stuffed with ricotta, fontina, and Parmigiano Reggiano before it is quickly simmered to a toothsomely perfect al dente and served in a walnut pesto.
I struggle to adequately explain how wonderful this fresh pasta is. How the texture is so important. Pasta is not meant to be paste. It is not supposed to be mealy or soft or “melt-in-your-mouth” or any of that. It shouldn’t be tough, but it does have a little body to it. Taste this ravioli and you will understand. Maybe they should have someone standing by the door, popping one into the mouths of everyone who walks in Piatto, because I think they’d sell a lot of ravioli. A lot.
Which, of course, means that I’ll have to return soon to try the roasted gnocchi ($14), beef carpaccio ($15), and salmon tartare ($16). Poor me.
We got the chilled peach soup and the roasted garlic soup (both $8) because, well, did you read the words I just wrote? “Chilled peach soup” sounds amazing. And it is. And if your mouth doesn’t water reading “roasted garlic soup” then you have a serious condition known as Sjogren’s Syndrome, in which the body cannot produce enough saliva or tears. It’s an autoimmune disease and you definitely need to see a doctor.
The chilled peach is marvelous, tart and sweet and with surprising pops of fresh vegetables from the cucumber and red bell pepper. It’s more of a sharing soup, if I’m being honest, because it’s a lot and it’s quite intense.
The roasted garlic soup is served with a polenta crouton, but it’s also kind of a big bowl of gravy. And if you think that’s me complaining, then welcome to I Ate Oklahoma. It gets weird here. Chef Forester told me one little trick to this soup is they use the rind from the Parmigiano Reggiano to infuse it with tons of umami. Goodness me, this is a winner.
My plate of cacio e pepe ($17) was a delight. Feel free to salt and pepper at the table to get it just to your liking, but you definitely won’t need more pepper on this one. (Cacio literally means cheese in Italian. Pepe is pepper.) Again, the pasta was perfect, with a lovely little bite that keeps you going back for more.
I know a lot of you hate the term “mouth feel” and, honestly, I get it. But texture is so vital to food that, to ignore how it feels in your mouth would be to completely alter how we think about eating. Would a cacio e pepe smoothie taste good? Maybe. But would you want to drink one? I doubt it. The texture of the pasta is what elevates this classic Italian dish.
The same goes for the octopus and bone marrow ($24), which uses casarecce pasta (from the Italian for “homemade”) and they’re these little knuckle-length twists of chewy noodles. The octopus is braised in tomato, which keeps the texture from being rubbery. The bone marrow is worked into the sauce and adds a rich, meatiness to the dish, but the tomato keeps it from going overboard. It’s a tightrope walk of a plate and I hope all of you try it.
If you have room for dessert (we took boxes with us), I loved the lemon cake ($9) which is served with a bit of fresh whipped cream and a puddle of sweet lemon-y butter sauce. Wow. Drizzle me in that stuff before you throw me to the lions—I think we’d both enjoy it.
The cake has a slight crispness to it, which just gives the sauce something to soften. The lemon flavor is comforting, sweet and supple, without ever becoming too tart.
Piatto has a challenge, however: Getting people to brave that north May Ave. traffic to go to a building that has changed names twice in the last year won’t be easy. But a taste of this food might be all it takes to get a bevy of loyal customers happily waiting at the door.