"Good food. Good prices. People will come." That was the recipe for success my Russian Grandfather formulated when he opened his world-famous Indianapolis delicatessen a century ago.
Biagio “Gino” Riccio must have channeled Grandpa. His jam-packed Quattro Pazzi restaurants in Stamford and Fairfield are testimony to what happens when you serve delicious fare at fair prices. People flock … making QP one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Connecticut. (In fact, over 5000 CTBites readers voted Quattro Pazzi as the best Italian in Fairfield Country.)
Though some epicures might sniff at the ranking, there’s no denying QP enjoys wide popularity. Most patrons are drawn by the acclaimed pastas, first served at Gino’s Quattro Regali on Hope Street and now his Quattro Pazzi on Bedford Street (blessedly replacing the Kitchen Nightmare that was Sabatiello’s.)
Amply apportioned for sharing, over 15 different pasta variations dominate the menu, organized under three separate headings: Artisan, Gluten Free, and Fresh.
Both the gluten free and fresh pastas are made in-house every day, exactly as Gino’s Calabrian family taught him, and then bathed with homemade sauces that are seasoned with lots of fresh herbs. The fettuccine is served with a sauce that begins with a simple base of scallions and butter and is then completed with tomato, cream, and cognac. Studded with a generous Frutti di Mare of scallop, shrimp, and lump crab meat, Riccio’s Fettuccine Mitty plays off both northern and southern traditions.
“The menu is not at all influenced by Calabrian cuisine,” Gino told CTBites. “I was actually born in Australia, and lived with my family in both Italy and America. It’s regional Italian for America.”
Each year Gino visits Italy in search of recipes. From one of those explorations, he brought back the aptly named Cavatelli Marco Polo, and it’s become a Stamford favorite. The miniature hotdog-bun-shaped shells embrace a hearty sauce of chicken, ricotta, sundried tomatoes, broccoli, garlic and oil. It takes a big appetite to finish the plate, but the Marco Polo would seem to be the ideal take-home left-over, since it just has to travel well.
Gino’s Cavatelli Toscana also invites Big Time Appetites. In this iteration, the creamy pasta embraces a rustic sauce of sweet sausage, white beans, tomato, arugula and garlic. Other crowd pleasers on the fresh pasta menu include a whole-wheat linguine with vegetables, a robust Gnocchi Bolognese, and porcini papardelle, the mushrooms swimming in a warm gorgonzola cream with white truffle oil.
The Artisan pastas are imported from Italy by Garafalo, one of the most prized dried noodles in the world (now available for home cooking at Tarry Market in Port Chester). These shaped pastas are made by turning the noodle on bronze dies, which roughen the surface so creamy sauces can lovingly cling to the tubes.
Case in point: the opulent pink vodka sauce that Gino ladles over penne. Like his fettuccine sauce, Gino again warms butter and scallion as the base for the pink cream which he now flavors with vodka. And that exact same base is the starting point for the sundried tomato vodka cream that marries his Farfalle and Shrimp, another star of the show.
“Pasta is what I grew up with,” Gino says. And the renowned Italian foodie and cookbook author, Sophia Loren, once claimed “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
To honor her voluptuous love of Italian food, one of the actress’ recipes has become an Italian Classic: “Sophia Loren’s Chicken.” Gino has endowed his version (“Chicken Sophia Loren”) with luscious spinach and soft fontina drenched in a white wine sauce. Pino Grigio in an hourglass might make a perfect pairing.
Gino’s Veal Sorrentina pays tribute not to Italy, but to his own Italian American influences. After all, you will not find this classic on any menu in all of Italy. Rather it was created by Southern Italians in New York as homage to their beloved Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast. The medallions of veal are layered with eggplant, prosciutto, and the wondrous mozzarella cheese that helps define Sorrento’s distinctive cuisine. Add sherry and a touch of tomato sauce, and all that’s missing is a red checkered table cloth. What it lacks in refinement and authenticity, the dish makes up for in full bodied flavors and taste. A fun eat.
Indeed, fun is central to the Quattro Pazzi experience. (The name means “Four Crazies”). Meals here can stretch two or three hours, and Gino encourages his diners to stay, eat, talk, laugh, and then eat some more. La Dolce Vita.
Next spring, he will open Boca, a wine bar that will draw from the small plate cuisines of Spain, Italy and Greece. Located next door to QP in Telluride’s old space, Boca’s arrival is much anticipated. It will be the first gastropub on youthful Bedford Street, and an alternative to Barcelona on Summer, ZaZa on Broad, and Bar Rosso on Spring. Gino imagines Boca to be a welcoming gathering place. Like Quattro Pazzi.
My Grandfather had another business rule he followed: “Be Good to the Store, and the Store will be Good to you.” A recipe Gino Riccio also seems to execute to perfection.
269 Bedford Street (across from the Avon Theater)
1599 Post Road
Reservations on OpenTable.com. Soon Cityeats.com
[Photography courtesy of Tom McGovern]