We had the opportunity to sit among friends, in an intimate setting for the latest DiLisio’s Italian Restaurant Wine Dinner. Usually these dinners are for upwards of 60 people. For this dinner, there were only 18 people. I think this made the dinner more accessible from both the house’s perspective and the diners’. First, there’s the cosmetic upfitting that Tony and Maria did to the restaurant the week prior. The DiLisios changed the color scheme to a warmer earth-toned theme and moved away from the sometimes drab and dull white that has been the motif since the beginning. They replaced the floors and installed sound baffling on the ceilings and walls to help eliminate the abundance of noise the flat-surfaced walls admeasure at times.
However, the true star of this remodel is the new bar area. They have simultaneously eliminated a less-than-attractive register area and the need to wade through waiting patrons to get to the “hostess” in order to obtain a place in line. In doing so, they created an aesthetically beautiful structure that allows for a few eating seats, a place to service the imbibing and allow for draft beer, a sure attraction. Add this to the fantastic fare that DiLisio’s is known for and you have a win-win. But, we’re here to talk about the pairing, so let’s.
The dinner leaned a little heavy on the seafood and that’s a good thing. In fact, the first three full courses were seafood based. The wine pairings were on point and whether they stood on their own or not, their accompanying the foods they were with, molto bene!
First Course: Insalada Di Gamberi with Arugula Scaglei di Parmigiano Limone Extra Vergine di Oliva
An arugula salad sounds basic enough, but add generous portions of shrimp and heap some shaved Parmesan cheese to the top and it jumps tall buildings in a single bound. Add the lemon extra virgin olive oil and it flies to the moon. It’s amazing how so simple a thing can be so extraordinary. The citrus on top of the shrimp reminded me of ceviche, even though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the preparation process. And, the citrus wasn’t quaint, it was a full immersion of flavor that took the shrimp, cheese and arugula, all of which are quite flavor-potent in their own rights, for a joyride.
This is paired with Domaine Laurent Miquel Albarino from France. The wine was fair on its own but the citrus and cheese in the salad were even more vivid when paired with this wine. For a first course, it was amazing how plentiful and powerful it was.
Second Course: Ostriche served with Panna Acida and Caviar
Ostriche is Italian for oysters, not ostrich. Three deliciously fleshy oysters, prepared raw with a dab of red roe caviar on each. A tangy creme fraiche dolloped on the plate made a great team when added to the roe-topped oysters. But, really, what made it near perfect was the addition of the seaweed salad that separated them by position but brought them to a perfect harmonious union. I have become quite fond of this particular style of seaweed and its pickled tang with chewy texture sat on the oyster with the caviar and creme fraiche like royalty upon thrones. The flavor was just as majestic. Some of the guests were a little hesitant because the oysters were raw, which, was good news for me because my near neighbors allowed me to finish off what they weren’t keen to. I believe I had around nine total.
The ostriche was paired with Echo Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. This light and airy white wine made it easy for the seaweed and creme fraiche to envelop the oysters and caviar creating a party on the half shell.
Interlude: Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! Sure, it is a cantaloupe that has thinly sliced Italian ham draped over it like it was putting it to bed. But, you add the dark and rich balsamic gastrique to the ensemble and you get a salty-sweet explosion that I really don’t believe your taste buds are ready for. There was more than one person “oohing and ahhing” over this course. It is meant as a palate cleanser and the melon does its job, all while showing you its new friends’ tricks along the way. Okay, simple yes. Plain? No way.
Third Course: Swordfish Involtino with Pane Profumato a Limone with a Marscarpone Orange Risotto
Ah, the steak-like swordfish. Cooked nicely; not too done and not under done. This sitting on some of the creamiest, yet firm risotto that I can remember having tangy from the marscarpone and orange. A blood orange sits to the side with the crusty bread. As I have said before, the perfect secret ingredient is the microgreens. Earthy and bright, these tiny leaves pack quite a wallop. I think the microgreens are a wonderful compliment to almost any savory dish, here’s no exception. Meld the earthy and bright with the swordfish and lemon-tinged roulade; almost plate licking good.
This was paired with Treanna White Blend, Central Coast. 50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier grapes. I will be honest that I really did not like this wine. At least, not on its own. However, when I took a bite of the risotto, swordfish roulade and microgreens and then sipped this wine, it opened my mind and taste buds to its true potential. It is not a wine that I would go out of my way to drink but if I’m having swordfish with creamy risotto, then I may give it another try.
Fourth Course: Spezzatino di Carne with a Chef Vegetable Blend
Tony DiLisio described this as Italian Filet while spezzatino di carne actually means “stew meat.” I will say it was quite tender. It was cooked closer to medium/medium-well and I would have rather it be medium-rare, but other than that, its seasoning and texture was spot on. The only thing that kept it from perfect was the temperature and in the long run, that was not an issue. The beef was placed on top of nicely seasoned potatoes along with pickled carrots and, you guessed it, more microgreens.
The pairing for this was Ferrari-Carano “Siena,” Sonoma, a delicious jammy red with a good bit of blackberry, raspberry, vanilla and a bit of darker flavors, those of cocoa and licorice. I have always been a white wine drinker but I have found that there are many reds that I have started to grow quite fond of; especially when having it with red meat. The fruit-forward jamminess compliments the savory beef and vegetables. This is a marriage made in paradise. I will not say that the wine was the highlight of the meal but it was certainly a major contributor.
Fifth Course: Caprese Bianca with Almond Coulis
A moist cake with lemon with a thin, syrupy, almond sauce and edible flowers. It was sweet but not too. The almond coulis mixed with the edible flowers was a nice touch with the cake. This was not my favorite dish of the evening but desserts rarely are. That, however is not to say that I did not enjoy it or that there was anything bad about it. It is fitting that it had an almond coulis as the pairing was almond as well.
The pairing was with the JFJ Almond Brut, California. This is some sparkling white that is fully infused with almond flavor. I had this wine once before and liked it so much I purchased two bottles of it. The almond flavor was flowing abundantly between the coulis and the wine. The cake almost got lost in the mix, but that is not a bad thing, either. The nutty profiles were the stars of this course and with good measure. If you have the chance to have the JFJ, especially when you have other almondy things in the mix, you should certainly jump at that chance.
Tony DiLisio is a fantastic chef. He has a cadre of professionals in the kitchen with him. Maria DiLisio’s servers are loyal and attentive and top-notch. Together this team knows how to bring you finest in food pairings; the best Italian food and wine pairings. Each of their pairing dinners are something new, different and honest. These dinners are where Tony shows off. DiLisio’s everyday fare is exactly what it should be. An Italian meal that is honest, delicious and authentic. Sometimes, Italian (as well as other specialized cuisines) restaurateurs have the tendency to try to “jazz” up the wheel when the wheel is perfect the way it is. When I go for Italian, I want the spaghetti, lasagna, picatta, caccitore, amici and other like meals to be “authentic” and true; not jazzy. I would never call DiLisio’s plain, just “delightfully right.” But, as I said, these meals are Tony’s time to shine. He creates works of art that we are able to, and happy to put into our mouths. The portions are not huge and they are not meant to be.
The one thing I will say about these wine dinners is when they pour the wine, until that course is over, they will continue to fill your glass when you finish it until you tell them to stop. Most places give you a tasting and then you are done with it. Not here, and thankfully so. As I said before, all of these wines were spot-on, whether on their own or paired. Bravo, Tony, il amico mio! Fantastico!
I write this Food Pairing Series with the idea of highlighting the chefs, restaurateurs and other merchants that make this area wonderful for food. You should know where to find the best food and drink when it is out there waiting to be tasted. You can find more about DiLisio’s by visiting their website here. They are on Twitter (@medilisios) and Instagram (@dilisios). DiLisio’s does not accept reservations but if you need to call in an order or ask questions, you can reach them at 336-546-7202.
Bon appetit! or should I say: Buon appetito!!