I recently had the opportunity to visit the newly redesigned Amore Cucina & Bar on Hope Street in Stamford for a blogger dinner.
The restaurant interior boasts a warm rustic atmosphere with its combination of exposed brick and distressed wood. The large bar area accommodates thirty people and offers a well thought out wine list with a concentration on Italian varietals, creative cocktails and craft beer. Sixty seats are set up in a casual trattoria style, and during warmer weather a large patio will welcome diners.
The real news here is Owner Bruno DiFabio, a six-time World Pizza Champion, Restaurateur and Television Personality. With eleven restaurants in the US and new ones scheduled to open in London, I assure you that he knows pizza.
Amore is home to two styles of pizza, the round and the square, each requiring different ovens and different techniques, and both exceptional.
We started with the round pies, which Bruno refers to as the Neo-Neapolitan round. For this variety he uses a yeast that is foraged by hand from the Dolomite Mountains and resulting with crust that is perfectly thin, crispy and chewy all at once. “Like a banana,” DiFabio explains, “the pizza crust is at its best when you see those little black speckles all over it.”
The first pizza I sampled was the New Haven White. With little necks, Amore bacon, house mozzarella and smoked lemon juice, this pie is a tribute to those made famous in New Haven. Not ordinarily a fan of clam pizza, I bit into it skeptically. I was pleasantly surprised by the smoky creaminess, with a distinct clam flavor that wasn’t overwhelming. The Holy Cheesus made with house-made mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Fontina and burrata was creamy and decadent, yet delightfully light and airy. This pizza will delight those who love cheese and white pizzas,and even those not traditionally a fan of the white pizza ought to give this a try. For The Queen is more traditional with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, basil, and for an element of surprise, a local egg appears sunny side up in the center. Don’t let this intimidate you. This pie was also outstanding. My favorite of the round pies was the most unexpected Something Fishy. White anchovies, capers, garlic, Calabrian chilies and Pecorino Romano give this pizza a lovely salty, spicy kick that lingers after your last bite. Anchovies are indeed an acquired taste, but if they appeal to you this is a pizza that should not be passed up.
Next to come to the table were the square pies. This dough is made from a batter that uses condensed milk and goes through a 96-hour fermentation process! Upon looking at these pizzas you may tell yourself that they look an awful lot like a Greek pizza, but I promise you they are nothing of the sort. Don’t let the thickness of this ciabatta-like crust fool you. This was one of the lightest crusts I have ever bitten into. The outside is perfectly crunchy, while the inside, airy - almost cloud-like, simply melts in your mouth. The Juliet, made from house mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce, fig jam, and prosciutto played with the sweet and savory flavors, a combination that worked well. The Pitt Master plays off a southern influence with pulled pork, red onion, mozzarella, BBQ sauce and agave nectar. Although by description it sounds to be sweet, it was only as sweet as the smoky barbeque sauce. I liked the southern flavors, though, admittedly, part of me was dying for another slice of the Something Fishy!
Partnering with DiFabio is Chef Jared Falco who comes to Amore Cucina from the wildly successful Washington Prime. Falco brings with him his artistic twist and ability to create the sublime. He puts his creative signature on many of the dishes. Amore Cucina should be considered to be much more than a traditional pizza joint, and don’t let the charming rustic décor fool you. Their anything but traditional fare is certainly worth noting. Taking a departure from the pizzas we moved to the Arugula and Beet Salad. While made with beets, goat cheese and candied walnuts, this salad was nothing like I imagined. The beets were pureed, and despite the candied nuts, this salad was much more savory than I had expected; a pleasant surprise. I loved the pureed beets, another inventive, creative interpretation of a traditional, if not slightly overdone, favorite of many.
The meatballs were beautiful. Topped with house made sauce and ricotta, these balls of meat were incredibly flavorful. They were not however, tender, resembling more a mini hamburger rather than a meatball. Yet I would not steer anyone away from these meatballs, instead, I would just forewarn those interested that they’re different than expected. Different isn’t always a bad thing.
If soft is what you are looking for, the Lasagna Balls are a fun and creative twist on the traditional meatball. Think of it as an inside-out lasagna ball. Bite into a crispy exterior to find a soft, tender middle where perfectly cooked lasagna noodles are waiting to be discovered.
Looking for something lighter? The Tuna Crudo was refreshing with a nice spicy kick. Sushi grade yellow fin tuna is topped with Calabrian Chilies, toasted pumpkin seeds, red onion and torn parsley. Another pleasantly surprising dish was the Octopus Puttanesca. I could have eaten an entire meal of this. The perfectly tender octopus had an ever so slightly crunchy exterior. Served with tomatoes, Sicily olives, garlic, sausage and capers, this dish may seem unexpected here. If you love octopus you will not be disappointed.
Another unexpected menu item, and a delight, was the Shrimp & Polenta. A large prawn sits on top of house-made polenta with house bacon and tomato. The presentation was gorgeous. The flavors were vibrant. Both the shrimp and the creamy polenta were cooked to perfection.
While everything presented to us was excellent, I believe they saved the best for last. The Chicken Scarpiariello was positively out of this world. This was the best rendition I have ever had. A perfectly crispy, skin-on exterior, sealed in the juices revealing a tender, succulent and incredibly flavorful chicken with a spiciness that is present yet not so alarming to scare away those who prefer their dishes on the milder side. A note to Falco – Your trademark is evident from the presentation to the perfection in which this was cooked. You knocked this one out of the ball-park!
At the risk of sounding overly-eager, I truly can’t find fault with any of the dishes that were presented to us. While everything was exemplary I did have a few favorites. I loved the new Haven White and the Something Fishy Pizzas, the Octopus Puttanesca and the Chicken Scarpiarello.