After a brief bout of Musical Toques, Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi -- owners of Cotto’s Winebar and Pizzeria in Stamford -- have convinced veteran Chef Greg Depelteau to come aboard and expand their imaginative menu of small plates and pizza.
Depelteau, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, is in total simpatico with the Ridolfis’ insistence that a dish, especially a small plate, should be driven by primary flavors. “These days a lot of chefs overdo things,” Greg contends and we agree. “Too many flavors confuse the diner.“
Cotto’s simple take on hanger steak, a cut prized for its flavor, makes the case. After marinating the muscular cut overnight in herbed EVOO, Depelteau quickly grills the meat on a blazing hot sheet pan to achieve a hard sear, while maintaining a surprisingly tender, rare interior. After a rest period to re-migrate the juices, the perfectly charred steak is served with a red wine demi, haricots verte and roasted fingerlings. At a recent tasting, I literally closed my eyes to savor the simple, basic flavors of meat, potatoes, and veggies, and agreed with everyone at the table that the dish was remarkable, mainly because it wasn’t striving to be remarkable.
Depelteau has even simplified Cotta’s acclaimed Bolognese (see CTBites’ Bolo Roundup) by removing the mushrooms -- not a classical component. “I’m not a purist by any means,” he told us, “but we thought the ingredient just wasn’t necessary.” The chef describes his style as “flexible Italian.”
He has just introduced Pici, a little known Tuscan pasta, to the menu… and New England. Depelteau discovered the spaghetti-like noodle paging through a cookbook (his favorite reading he told us) . He rolls pasta around a skewer, removes the thin stick, and then cuts the resulting pasta pipe into irregular, bite sized logs, which after a fast boil, are served with a sausage ragu. I was surprised how well the thin spaghetti stood up to the heavier sauce. No twirling needed. Developed as a special, the tasty dish is about to debut as standard choice on the new menu.
Another newcomer to the expanded menu -- an entrée dubbed, “ Mare Cotto.” While still in development when we visited, the dish is envisioned as a Frutti di Mare swimming in a brodo pesce, topped by a puff pastry and then finished in the Pizza oven. Chef Greg thinks the epynomous Cotto Mare will soon become the restaurant’s signature dish. Literally. Cotto, by the way, means “cooked” in Italian, and is also the name of one the Claudio and Silvy’s favorite restaurants in Rome.
The pre-prepped Lamb Sliders were a favorite at our table. Braised overnight in red wine, the meat is then browned, shredded and simmered with rosemary, red wine and onions. Sprinkled with microgreens, the lamb is piled on a strip of deep fried polenta , crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The dense cornmeal platform perfectly supports the hearty lamb, but there’s a caveat: while finger-licking good, the slider is not finger food. Fork required.
As a worshiper at the altar of smoked salmon, I’ve had a bit of a revelation. It’s called “Norwegian Bruschetta.” Cotto layers smoked, translucent Norwegian Salmon over toasted, oiled bread and then crowns the construction with Mascarpone and fried capers. “Wow” ranks as an understatement. A Tomato Bruschetta was only a bit less spectacular. At once fresh and decadent, the traditional veggie Brusky was elevated by its tasty cap of whipped Ricotta.
The home-made potato Gnocchi with basil pesto, perline di mozzarella, oven dried grapes, tomato, pine nuts and micro basil draws raves. A truffle pizza, however, seems a work in progress. I found it too nuanced, in need of more assertive flavors.
A Sicilian small plate, Eggplant Copanata joins opposing sweet and sour flavors. Eggplant is combined with olives, onions, peppers, red wine and a touch of honey, all spread on a flatbread (grilled pizza dough) One of the more complex offerings, the many flavors complimented but did not compete with each other.
Sausages and cheeses are imported from Italy. “Claudio insists on the best,” Chef Greg says, proudly. “His porchetta comes from Rome, because Roman porchetta, though more expensive, is superior to any other in all of Italy. The man never skimps.”
The charcuterie, cheese, and arancini, those traditional Italian rice balls, along with pannini and pizza will be showcased in Cotto’s new Late Night menu, available soon.
Also in the offing -- valet parking and expanded sidewalk dining this summer. Cotto’s Bank Street location is, alas, slightly off the beaten path. (Their predecessor Tappo and two other adjoining restaurants couldn’t overcome this disadvantage.) But with its inventive but simple flavor-driven menu, perhaps Cotto will succeed on reputation. As well as space.
The Ridalfis have created a sleek but warm interior, designed to give diners the abstract impression they have just walked into a warmly lit and welcoming wine barrel. On one side of the curve, a stunning bar extends the entire length of the room and at its far end features seating on both sides. The opposite wall is graced with Black and White photos of Silvy’s mom. A ravishing Italian actress, she is framed with the icons of Europe’s neo-realistic, mid-century cinema.
It is said there is no such thing as good or bad style. One either has it or one doesn’t.
Like Silvy’s mom and those movies, Cotto has style. To the eye. On the palate.
COTTO WINEBAR & Pizzeria
51 Bank Street, Stamford
2093 914 1400
[Photography by Tom McGovern]