A Roman Refresh At Stamford's COTTO

James Gribbon

The Italian word cotto translates directly to "cooked," a simple enough name for a pasta and pizza spot just off Stamford's bull's eye, but neither the place nor the word are as obvious once you look deeper. No mere red sauce joint, the Bank Street trattoria has Roman roots. It's also a wine bar: cotto, you see, can also mean "sauced." 

The space has been open as COTTO since 2012, and restaurateurs Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi have now revamped the staff with chef Rolando Guardado via Z Hospitality group (Mediterraneo, Terra), sommelier Ian Toogood (A Voce, Le Fat Poodle), and mixologist Eric Bufo, formerly of Walrus+Carpenter. CTBites took a look. Here's what we saw.

Cotto is a deep, narrow space with a glass front at one end, and a serious pizza oven at the other. A bar runs almost the length of the place, and a washboard of wooden beams curve overhead like you're drinking under a perpetual ripcurl. The facing wall of exposed brick is covered in photos of Simonetta Simeoni, an Italian model/actress who appeared in several 1960s swords and sandals features. In the photos she is beautiful enough to be a risk to cardiac health. She's also Silvy's mother, so they're not just decoration, they're family photos. 

When in Rome, drink a Roma 85, the cocktail served at Cotto with gin, prosecco, Aperol, simple syrup, and lemon juice. Dry, but with a sweet finish, it was a bright start as we waited for our antipasti. 

"We are completely overspending on this, but Claudio gives us some leeway," said Toogood as he brought the platter. At $17.50 for three choices, it's worth it. The taleggio was creamy, but retained a good amount of funky bite. I particularly liked the rough, simple, salami Schiacciata, with a counterpoint of mortadella

The fried calamari we sampled was very light in both color and weight of the batter, but I may have preferred the grilled calamari, crosshatched with a flavorful char, with piccata oil and a drizzle of balsamic. 

Eric at the bar is reliably creative, and able to tailor drinks to the individual preferences of patrons. I've had his drinks at both W+C and Cotto, and can say with confidence that one glass leads to another. Sommelier Toogood has been able to create a 400 bottle selection, "my girlfriend," as he calls it, and he's equally enthusiastic about pairing the right drink with the right palate. A bunker should thus be built to guard against the psychic tornado of spirits, and can be found in Cotto arancini. These golf ball sized bombs make pleasing bar snacks, and are sharp with gorgonzola.

Claudio is from Ostia, the city of Rome's ancient port, where antipasti and piattini are inevitably followed by the pasta course. We had the Bucatini ("little holes" for their tubular cross section) All'Amatriciana in a tomato sauce with guanciale and pecorino, and Tonnarelli (looked like spaghetti to me) in an olive oil based sauce with pecorino and loads of black pepper. Both pastas were made downstairs, and both were excellent. The sweet San Marzano tomatoes were dressed up with the meat inclusion, but not made heavy by it, allowing the pasta to stand up as a 50/50 partner in the dish. The cacio & pepe sauce was thin, and thick with pepper, but also let the pasta and cheese play their parts. A fist-sized serving was perfect for me, but maybe you're more dedicated.

There were a lot of us at the table, so two pizzas became a sort of palate cleanser. The first pizza, a chicken scarpariello, was served with slices of chicken sausage, spinach, and hot cherry peppers. I enjoyed the additional protein and the mouth searing punch of the peppers as beads of sweat broke on my brow, but others were somewhat put off. Call it a bit of an adventurous pie. 

The second was a more familiar margherita: tomato sauce, mozzarella (not slices)and basil. The pizza oven at Cotto is hellfire-hot, and scorches its produce with brown and black blisters which, as a child of the New Haven scene, I can't live without. The thoroughly toasted crust at the edges is thus as good as the pungent mozz at the center. 

Grilled lamb chops were served cut thin, about 3/4" thick, bone-in, and well done, but were somehow also significantly better than I expected, both that night and reheated the next afternoon. The balsamic drizzle contributed, I think. A chunk of branzino was served in a lobster butter sauce. There was a tasty crust derived from searing the fairly heavy fish, and the lobster butter added both a large amount of flavor and moisture. I would have liked to have had more of this, but I was done. 

Well, nearly. I did have bites of a few desserts, with my preference being for some Sicilian creation under a green head with a body like cannoli filling, only fluffy and light. It was a good way to cap off a meal without immediately slipping off into catatonia, I thought, as I slipped into the night to do just that.

COTTO Wine Bar, 51 Bank St., Stamford, CT; 203 914 1400cottowinebar.com