Roman Holiday

Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above left: The Cotto dining room and bar; right: Elio Filippino wines are among the highlights of Cotto’s extensive wine list.

Since it opened five years ago, Cotto Wine Bar has been a Roman outpost. Urban and contemporary, it boasts a menu that hits collective taste memories of Italy: porchetta sandwiches, Roman fried artichokes and pastas with texture. Tucked in on Bank Street, Cotto today is devoted to Italy’s regional foods. And in an ongoing wine dinner series, Italian vintners will pair Cotto’s dishes with regional wines.

Cotto’s narrow dining room is flanked by a long, white, eat-in bar, where one can order from a 400-bottle wine list or contemporary cocktail menu. A recent dinner with Elio Filippino was a tour of Italy and its regional artisan products, which the winemaker matched with wines from his family’s estate in the Langhe hills of Piedmont in Northern Italy. The barbera, nebbiolo and dolcetto vines are like cousins to the Filippino family, which has been growing grapes since the early 1900s and making their own wine since the 1950s. Their wines are DOC and DOCG certified as having been grown in specific traditional regions.

To begin, two appetizers to share with the table: bright, lemony tuna tartare all’arancia with crisp Sardinian flatbread to scoop up the cool, fresh cubes of tuna and rich, ripe avocado. A board of salumi, thin slices of cured meats, folded, twisted and draped, presented a range of colors, textures, flavors: fruity, meltingly soft prosciutto; smoky speck; tender mortadella studded with pistachios; disks of dry salami and bresaola, air-cured beef. The meats were from Levoni of Castellucchio, in Mantova.

Right: Spaghetti alla carbonara, one of Cotto’s more popular pasta dishes
Left: tuna tartare
Left below: Antipasti board with salumi, prosciutto, mortadella, speck and more

To pair, the Dolcetta D’Alba, DOC “Sori Capelli” 2015, was fruity and light. Made from 100 percent dolcetto grapes, harvested by hand, and briefly aged in stainless steel vats, it’s a wine you could drink every day, says Elio Filippino, whose Italian was translated by a colleague. And with the salumi, “a perfect pairing.”

Pasta was served as a primi piatti, as it would be in Italy, except this is the USA and the chef wanted to show off a little, so three pastas were served, revealing the most important lesson of Italian pasta: texture. Spaghetti chitarra—a fresh pasta rolled and cut on a stringed instrument that gives the strands a square rather than round shape—was made by Pastificio Bacchini in Italy, and the tomatoes that clung to the pasta were filets of Strianese tomatoes, DOP-certified San Marzanos grown in the Sarnese-Nocerino region. Bucatini all’Amatriciana, thicker long strands of pasta with a center hole, was a spicy and hearty Roman tomato sauce made with guanciale, cured pork jowls. To drink with the pastas, Langhe Nebbiolo, which had notes of cherry. It’s aged a year in oak, and another six months in the bottle. It’s a wine for pastas or meat dishes.

The chef couldn’t restrain from serving a third pasta, vongole veracci, little clams imported from Anzio on the Mediterranean Sea outside of Rome, simply cooked with garlic, white wine, parsley and lemon. The clams were served on spaghettoni, a thicker pasta made in Abruzzo using older bronze dies that leave a rough texture on the pasta so that it catches the sauce, which coats each strand.

The secondi had one of the best skirt steaks I’ve ever eaten, with flavors of the grill, against pink, tender beef draped in a Barolo reduction, with sautéed porcini mushroom and black truffle from Spoleto. The name Spoleto called forth a memory of eating grilled lamb chops on an outdoor patio. And Cotto’s second secondi were little grilled lamb chops with those same simple elements of fire and a little salt.

The secondi was served with two wines: Barbera D’Alba DOC “Vigna Veja” 2013, made with 100 percent Barber, a garnet-hued, fruity, high-acid, low-tannin wine, briefly aged in oak. The most special wine of the evening was Barolo DOCG “Castiglione Falletto” 2011, made of 100 percent nebbiolo, aged in oak for two years, and in the bottle an additional year. Filippino noted its “excellent quality,” fruity, elegant, with a structure that could allow for twenty years of aging.

Desserts imported from Amalfi included candied pear and ricotta tart, paired with glass of golden, fragrant, floral Moscato d’Astic DOCG. Perfect for those with a sweet tooth.

More dinners are planned through the year. Check the website for updates.

51 Bank St.


Mon.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
Thu. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.–midnight
Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.



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