left: Fresh pasta from Table 104 center: Modern Italian restaurant design of Divina right: White bean spread from Olio. – Photographs: Pasta by Julie Bidwell; Divina, contributed; White bean dip, Garvin Burke; portrait, Kyle Norton
Umbria, the central region of Italy, is known for its Medieval hill towns and green valleys as well as its Slow Food Movement and earthy dishes with in-season ingredients. When visiting in October, I enjoyed pumpkin risotto; pappardelle with wild boar ragu; pizza with porcini mushrooms; tagliatelle with shaved black truffles; and more, each paired with a glass of local red or white wine. As Italians do, I would typically skip breakfast, except for a cappuccino, and then enjoy a long lunch at a local trattoria; that was usually the main meal of the day. In the evenings, I would join friends for an aperitivo at my favorite enoteca; we’d also share a board of prosciutto, cheeses, olives, bread and, of course, vino!
Now home in Stamford, I’m “searching for Italy” among our local restaurants. There’s a large population of Italian-Americans in Stamford, with ancestral roots from southern Italy. While these southern Italian regions are different from Umbria, the passion for fresh ingredients, wine and eating together are the same.
As a foodie, I indulge in the experience of new and familiar foods, as well as the service. As a designer, I notice the design and details of the décor. Having designed restaurants, I pay attention to the parts that make the whole guest experience, and I’m inspired by other cultures, especially Italian. There are several Italian restaurants in Stamford that I enjoy and had the opportunity to design the interiors, including Columbus Park and Café Silvium (I highly recommended their authentic dishes from Puglia).
My heart remains in Italy, but Stamford is home. When I want to capture a bit of the life in Italy here, I can find it in local restaurants. In that quest, I tried a few restaurants that I had not yet experienced. Here’s what I found:
Among the many places serving pizza, this restaurant stands out. I tried a delicious, wood-oven, classic margherita pizza, topped with fresh mozzarella and arugula. The crust was thin and succulent, and the sauce was well-balanced. Perfect for lunch, paired with a glass of Gavi.
Located in the heart of downtown Stamford, this restaurant offers a fantastic happy hour.
The bartender welcomed me at the beautiful, curved bar, where I enjoyed a glass of prosecco with a prosciutto and pecorino board. The contemporary interior space has warm tones, high ceilings, an impressive wine display and signature artwork giving it a majestic feeling. The food combined with the interiors creates a perfect aperitivo experience.
I opted to sit at the “bar,” which is more of a counter overlooking the open kitchen; it was fun and lively in this cozy, intimate space, and I enjoyed watching the servers mix cocktails right there in the kitchen. As in Italy, Olio uses seasonal ingredients, mixed with signature dishes, offering a fusion of flavors and textures. I tried the Italian Long Hots stuffed with a sweet and spicy sausage (a must!); the Fall Salad, topped with butternut squash croutons; the housemade Ricotta Gnocchi Scarpariello; and the Affogato for dessert.
Honoring Italian tradition and culture, we created the new interior space to reflect the spirit and cuisine of Gravina in the region of Puglia, Italy, from where the owners originate. Italian materials and techniques were used, such as the tiles, white quartz bar, the etched glass and the Venetian plaster walls. Accent colors of mustard yellow on the bar stools, a luxurious blue for the banquet, clay red for the dining room chairs and
a soft green on the wall highlight the colors of Puglia and Southern Italy. In addition, clay birds, called the Cola Cola, are displayed; the bird is a symbol of Puglia and adds a whimsical touch.