Battuto Italian Kitchen, the Italian neighborhood restaurant established by Gene and Julie Gates of radio fame held a media event this week and I was fortunate to be invited. It is rather different from what I expected. I thought it would be the objet d’amour of someone with a romantic fascination with Italy – a fascination that usually does not transfer well across corporeal units. What I found was a good restaurant, informed by modern culinary trends, but making a conscious effort to not just follow the pack. Take some examples:
They hired Joel Harloff as chef. He has produced first-rate food at several Dallas restaurants including the Melrose Hotel, Second Floor and Ocho.
Pastry chef Stephanie Childress trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked for Mario Batali at B&B, Enoteca and Otto and at Michelin starred Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas. In a remarkable piece of entrepreneurship, Battuto seized on her desire to return to Texas and hired her ahead of what was probably a queue of suitors.
Everything on the wine list must carry a Wine Spectator score of 88 or higher. Every bottle on the list is available by the half-bottle and by the glass. Best of all, pricing. Markups vary but many run just twice retail, which is lower than almost all other high-end or medium-end restaurants. The 75-selection list is well chosen and includes three good wines from Texas. Tow Lakewood Brewery selections are on the beer list.
Careful ingredient selection permeates the menu. Pasta is made in house from Neapolitan double zero flour. Bison comes from the same Comanche Farm in Oklahoma that Dean Fearing sources from for his eponymous restaurant. The bacon is from Nueske’s.
Recipe selection is as important as ingredient selection. The principals knew the late owner of Modo Mio and use some of the recipes he shared with them. A case in point was a “Comanche Farm Buffalo and Pork Ragu with Handmade Pappardelle Noodles” ($13). The noodles and the gnocchi are made in house. The latter from Idaho russets, and the Parmesan sprinkled on top is genuine Parmesan Reggiano.
First up at our set lunch was a house cocktail ($10) built around Tito Beveridge’s eponymous Vodka from Austin, Texas. Fresh limes, grapefruit juice and simple syrup are added, along with Malbec for coloration and taste. It is straightforward and refreshing. The meat and cheese board ($19) comprises a Piemontese truffle cheese, Parmesan Reggiano and (moving stateside) Humboldt Fog from California. The salumi included mortadella, prosciutto and bresaola with the whole board supported by fennel slices and mostarda.
After that followed a soup and a salad plate hosting two separate salads from the formidable ‘Soup and Salads’ section of the menu. The soup was purèed cauliflower ($6) with roasted garlic added as a kind of culinary fascinator. Creamy texture with no cream!
The salads were arugula frisée with candied pine nuts, Parmesan Reggiano and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9) and a compelling roasted beet salad ($9) in which golden beets slathered themselves around your tongue, their flavor suffusing the Texas pecans, arugula, and shaved fennel.
A big part of the lunch menu is some highly individualized sandwiches. We had samples of muffuletta ($11). This was fennel salami, mortadella, bresaola, aged provolone and olive spread on muffuletta bread. And Turkey ($10), which had smoked turkey, Nueske’s bacon, lettuce and tomato.
There are also pizzas available at lunch and dinner ($9-$15).
It is worth saving room for Stephanie Childress’ desserts (I saved two rooms). The panna cotta ($8) is light and creamy, but if you want to really indulge go for the ethereally moist and engrossing chocolate red wine cake ($9).
Dinner service drops the sandwiches, adding mains like Branzino ($24), Veal Burger ($14) and Gustavo’s Short Ribs ($29). The latter apparently involves a three-day cooking process so it must be something special. The 2008 Hidden Ridge “55% Slope” Cabernet Sauvignon blend on the wine list ($90) would likely be a shoe-in with this.
Battuto is in the corner of Preston and Frankford also occupied by Cadot. So the folks in the surrounding neighborhoods can now choose between the two dominant schools of Western culinary development (French and Italian) without having to drive any further. It offers more than I expected, and should become as much a favorite as other neighborhood Italian restaurants – although never identical, and that is a good thing.