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Barilla® Penne with Braised Beef Shortribs, from Scarletti's Italian Kitchen, Downer's Grove, IL
“It’s hugely popular up here in Rochester,” Daniele beams.
But staying in touch with what modern diners want doesn’t have to mean going all-in with edgy techniques and technology. Take Scarletti’s, a 100-seat restaurant in Downer’s Grove, Ill., about 25 miles west of Chicago where the new age of discovery of Italian food is in full bloom.
What makes Scarletti’s stand out from the crowd is that the restaurant allows guests to expand their culinary horizons by selecting toppings and sauces for their own dishes, reports Pam Kellam, who operates the restaurant with her husband. “Modern diners – especially in the U.S. – expect to be able to customize and make their own choices,” notes Boni, “and pasta is a versatile platform to allow that.”
The way it works at Scarletti’s is that the menu includes a “Create Your Own Pasta” section that lists dozens of Barilla pasta cuts and shapes, scratch-made sauces and additional items. Diners tell the waiters what they are interested in and, like a pizza-parlor order in which price rises incrementally with each additional topping, the base entree price of $8.75 at Scarletti’s increases in increments of $1.95 per each additional item.
As a restaurant that cooks everything onsite, the make-your-own pasta amenity is the restaurant’s way of allowing guests to be experimental, Kellam says.
“We operate a scratch kitchen,” she says. “Pasta dishes are very creative, but we are not a traditional restaurant and I wouldn’t call us edgy either. I think the best way to think of us is that the restaurant reflects the way we cook at home when we have people over.”
Rochester’s Daniele, who traces his family tree back to the Abruzzo region of Italy, takes his entire staff over to the old country regularly in search of new ideas. Those pilgrimages have taught him that all of the new technology, new-fangled cooking techniques and daring flavor combinations with pasta and Italian food are no replacement for what makes Italian food exceptional: simplicity.
“There is an art and a complexity to Italian food, but it’s all based on simplicity,” Daniele says. “With a fine quality olive oil, fresh garlic and fresh vegetables, you’ve already got the beginning of a great dish.
“Turning a dish into something that is flavorful and satisfying is the art of true Italian pasta—not a thick sauce, not a lot of sauce, just very simple and flavorful.”