I was one of the lucky few invited last fall to join a group of local food bloggers and attend an intimate dinner at one of Chef Frank Bonanno’s wildly popular Denver restaurants, Luca D’Italia, to sample some of the recipes from their new icookbook, The Luca D’Italia Cookbook. Filled with recipes for family style Italian food; it’s not just a collection of recipes but also includes over 2 hours of instructional video providing readers with a variety of skillsets including how to poach a lobster, how to bone a chicken and how to butcher a rabbit among them. I couldn’t help but think, ‘how fortuitous.’ Great food in a beautiful location but even better for me? The chance to make that same great food myself. And I really had the best of intentions. I would peruse the iBook and decide upon my favorite dish and replicate it here; anxious to share with my readers the goodness that I experienced in this warm, intimate environment.
Then, life happened and some balls got dropped and here I am 6 months later; house sold, daughter 2 months into chemo (and managing it well, thankfully) and I’m currently living with friends which has allowed me some rest and respite; both sorely needed. My blog schedule might be a bit erratic but I’m getting back into the swing of it and also enjoying some local food events so I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to another Bonanno Concepts production; their first pizza joint aptly named Bonnano Brothers Pizzeria.
While these two restaurants are totally different, it’s not hard to see the ribbon that runs through them that exemplifies a Frank Bonanno (ad)venture. Exceptional food combined with equally exceptional service; that is their hallmark. Well known in the Denver area with an impressive stable of ten restaurants, Chef Bonanno was lucky to have found his passion early and has had the experience of working in restaurants most of his life. Reared in New Jersey, Bonanno was always immersed in food; whether at the table of his Sicilian grandmother or with his parents on trips to New York City to explore restaurants. Landing in Denver where he graduated from the School of Finance at the University of Denver, he continued that passion by earning a second degree at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY. Denver is lucky to have drawn him back west and with him his legacy of great Italian food that he shares with such passion.
Our dinner at Luca D’Italia started with Burrata and an assortment of salumi. The salumi was perfect; Frank is reknown for his love of cured meats but for me it was all about the Burrata. Oh. My. Goodness. I recalled it so vividly that it was a ‘must have’ when invited to the pizzeria. How can you not love cheese stuffed with more cheese? A thin layer of mozzarella is stuffed with homemade ricotta which is then drizzled with olive oil and served with toasted, crisp bread. Heaven on a plate and only just a starter!
Dinner was served family style with large platters of food placed on our tables. Each dish was masterfully cooked and presented and I would be hard pressed to declare a favorite. Considering my fondness for lobster, you might assume that the Lobster Fra Diavolo shown above would have won my heart but everything was so good I’m glad I didn’t have to make a choice!
Maybe Wild Mushroom Fusilli would be your favorite?
We enjoyed so much more too; Calamari with Caper Berries, a fantastic Brick Chicken with Panzenella Salad, and ended with Tiramisu and house made Limoncello. An altogether fantastic experience. If you’re local, you probably know the place and should scoot over for dinner but if you’re not local and want to enjoy it too? By all means check out the The Luca D’Italia Cookbook, you will love it! Here’s just one sample…you can make your own Burrata and see why I’m so in love!
- 12 oz mozzarella curd
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Cut room temperature curd into 1 inch cubes; set aside in a large pot.
- In a separate large pot, bring heavily salted water to boil (taste it, make sure you taste the salt!).
- Pour the boiling salted water over the curd and let it steep for 10 minutes.
- While the curd is steeping, prepare 4 8-oz ramekins by coating the inside with the olive oil.
- After the curd has steeped for 10 minutes, use a wooden to knead it, gently pressing it into itself and tossing it over. As it starts to come together, abandon the spoon and use your hands to knead it into 4 3-oz balls.
- Using your fingers, gently spread and flatten the balls to about 1/8 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter; gently center each disk of flattened cheese over the rim of a ramekin.
- Scoop two large tablespoons of ricotta into the middle of of each piece of mozzarella; using a spoon as you do to gently press the ricotta down and into the mozzarella lined ramekin.
- Fold the mozzarella over the ricotta, trimming any excess with a scissors.
- You can use the salted water the curds were steeped in to form a seal; just wet your fingers with the water and smear the top of each filled ramekin.
- To serve, flip the ramekin onto a serving dish and garnish the burrata with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
What’s the biggest difference for me between Luca D’Italia in Denver and Bonanno Brothers Pizzeria in Lone Tree? Finally one that is near me! I’m unabashedly a suburbanite and while some will lament the dearth of fine dining compared to living in the city, I have to say I love something closer with abundant parking. I heard rumors about them traveling south but it wasn’t until I was invited to bring a companion to their Friends and Family opening that we found out just how close. In the Vista at Park Meadows; within ten minutes from my door to theirs and with abundant parking? Can you say Happy Camper?
First and foremost? One of my absolutely favorite cocktails, the Aperol Spritz, is ON TAP!! That alone would be enough to see me become a regular customer but that was just the beginning. The aforementioned Burrata was a must and though it’s easy to make it will most likely always be on my ‘have to have’ list. Served with crispy slices of bread; it’s heaven on a plate I tell ya!
My friend Karen and I shared some of our dishes so that we could indulge in more choices. Our second appetizer was the Calamari and Pepperoncini. Perfectly prepared and tender squid are served with fried rings of pepperoncini peppers; a surprising but also delicious combination of ingredients. I think we fought over the last one. Not kidding.
We kept our salad simple and went the route of Caesar; so good I actually forgot to get a snap! Yes, it has an egg in it. How else do you REALLY prepare a proper Caesar salad??!!
I surveyed the menu choices for our main course, a pizza. Yes, I spied the Lobster Fra Diavolo Pizza but my single mom/frugal mentality couldn’t even consider it…until my hosts insisted. Well, if you insist…it would have been rude to have not accepted, right? Worth every penny. A fabulous crust topped with lobster, tomatoes, chiles and ricotta. I think ‘swoon’ fits. Amazing pizza. Though I’m anxious to get back for more…the Wild Mushroom and Walter White are next on my list. And if I’m in the mood for spur of the moment? I love that they have a community table smack dab in the middle of the room; no reservations required!
Served alongside our pizza was a trio of accompaniments. Parmesan cheese, chili flakes and the most wondrous of all? Chili Oil. I tried to be discreet, I really did but if you had been there you might have noticed my forefinger dipping into a pool that I put on my plate…just loved the stuff. It’s simple as can be but my daughter and I learned a hard lesson. DO NOT LEAVE IT OR LET IT EVEN SIMMER!!! Our first go around was not good, in fact it was totally burnt. Let’s blame multi-tasking OK? Second time was the charm and I loved it enough that I begged to share this recipe with my readers too. My only word of caution after that one about not letting it burn? Use good olive oil. Your end result is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. It’s sort of like my tequila advice when making margaritas…you don’t have to use the most expensive but also don’t use the cheapest!
Pretty huh? So tasty too. We loved it drizzled over the pizza and especially the crust and at home I’ve used it for breads, marinades and salad dressing. I’m hooked.
Thankful we had shared our food, my friend Karen and I made it a point to save room for dessert. We each ordered a dessert to share. The Chocolate Budino with sea salt was rich and creamy; the biscotti a perfect accompaniment. BUT…
This was the bomb. Long a favorite at Osteria Marco, this Butterscotch Bread Pudding has moved out to the burbs. This alone was worth the trip.
Considering our dinner was pre-opening night I would have expected some snafus but I saw none of that. The wait staff was friendly and knowledgeable and the food was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more. Wait…yes I could. We sat next to their garage doors that open onto the heart of the Vista area with foot traffic and a water fountain; next time I’m hoping the weather permits and they are open. I’ll pretend I’m sitting on the Vendetta sipping my Aperol Spritz…now that would be perfection!