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Europe’s Carluccio’s chain opens first U.S. outpost

It has been a few weeks of good news for fans of Italian food: The second location of Arlington's Italian Store opened in Westover last week; the market portion of chef Amy Brandwein's Centrolina opens today in CityCenter; and Carluccio's Italian market, cafe and restaurant will open June 3 in Old Town Alexandria.

The brainchild of chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Antonio Carluccio, the chain currently operates more than 100 locations in Europe and the Middle East. This will be Carluccio's first American outpost.

Carluccio, who sold the London-based company but has remained involved in a consulting role, said the cuisine hews closely to the motto he calls "mof mof," or "minimum of fuss, maximum of flavor." He spent time in London training executive chef Alfio Celia on his recipes.

The Carluccio's menu includes Italian standards such as caponata, arancini, minestrone, lasagna, gnocchi and osso buco. One of its signature dishes, the founder said, is the penne giardiniera, which features zucchini, fried spinach balls and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. He created the dish years ago when a vegetarian asked for a meatless dish.

"We Italians, we are natural vegetarians," Carluccio said.

Carluccio's happened to stumble on a perfectly suited 1871 building in Alexandria, said Cory Waldron, chief executive of Carluccio's USA.

"The architect took the influence from a piazza that he visited in Italy," Waldron said. The building had been vacant for a number of years and had to be gutted and renovated.

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