When it comes to opening a new Italian restaurant, it’s tough enough anywhere.
So here’s a heads up –The Usual Place, an amazing new Italian eatery on Siesta Drive, across from the Southgate Westfield Mall, may be in a for a name change after opening only a month or so ago. You see, the Italian-born owners thought they had a great name for a new restaurant . . . until they were reminded that here in the “good ol’ U.S. of A” most people would think of the usual place as the corner bar – not a place for unbelievable Italian food.
So convivial host, Marco, is suggesting they incorporate the Italian translation of The Usual place into the name, or maybe link the name with that of a well known street in Rome. Mart’s suggestion “Vatican City – The Usual Place” was turned down flat, as was my idea “Via Spiga – The Usual Place.” Fortunately I now know that Via Spiga translates to Ear Street. Huh!? Do they know that at the Via Spiga shoe brand?
But enough about the unusual name, The Usual Place is a great place for casually upscale Italian food. Case in point? Check this out . . .
Leave it to the team in the kitchen, all successful restaurant owners back in Italy, to come up with this amuse bouche. These chefs grew up knowing how authentic Italian food should taste. It’s like your Nona is in the back room! The amuse bouche – a complimentary starter - featured goat cheese rolled in mango tea, poised on a soup spoon resting on arugula, with the handle of the spoon wrapped in crispy home made bread twist. Served with a side of olive oil dressed with perfect little dots of balsamic oil, this was not only a tasty treat, but a visual one as well. It is also something I may be able to duplicate at home – that is if Mart helps!
Normally we order from the printed menu when visiting a restaurant we want to share on SarasotaFoodies, but when you see Octopus Salad on the daily special menu, why wouldn’t you try one? This is one of those dishes that you should ask for if you don’t see it on the regular menu. Bite tender sized chunks of octopus are mixed with boiled potatoes, arugula, cucumber, tomatoes, black olives, celery, and seasoned with garlic, lime juice and of course, salt and pepper. Yowza!
Knowing first hand the extra effort (and love) that goes into homemade pasta, I encourage everyone to taste the difference between homemade over what we buy at the grocery store. The Usual Place offers two homemade (make that handmade) potato gnocchi pastas, and one made with tortelloni – which I keyed on immediately. Their Tortelloni Rucola e Gorgonzola was about as good a pasta as I’ve enjoyed in a long time. And I mean a loooooong time! I just can’t say enough about this dish. Large, tender meat filled tortellini are served over fresh arugula and bathed in a rich, mouth-watering gorgonzola and sweet corn cream sauce. Just looking at the photo makes me want to race over to The Usual Place for another order.
While I was in foodie heaven with my tortelloni, Mart was over the moon for his Speck e Melanzane pizza, a 14 inch portion that could be shared, or kept all to yourself. (Do ya’ think he shared?!?) Topping a crispy, slightly charred thin crust, the pie was the perfect balance of fresh, homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced eggplant and parsley, and absolutely lavished with long slices of speck. There was enough speck on the pizza that Mart considered saving some for a quiche he wanted to make later. In fact, Mart was giggling with the indulgence of his pizza. Have you ever seen a pizza pie like this? Not me, that’s for sure!
Topping off the evening we were delighted to enjoy a bigne, The Usual Place’s light-as-air custard-filled puff pasty on a plate drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce and dusted with confectioners sugar. Nirvana in our world!
In Australia they have a saying “You’re an ideas man, aren’t you?” That saying could apply to the ideas men of The Usual Place. Marco is focusing on the enjoyment guests will have in the front of the house — where he’s considering screening classic Italian black and white movies on the wall or the white sheer curtains separating the bar from the main dining area. Think Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida’s images flickering on the curtain while you eat. Appetizing, right? In the kitchen, Chef Alessio, and chef-partner Giusppe, formerly star chefs in Padova, Italy (near Venice) are always toying with new ways to wake up your taste buds and rethink Italian classics.
Either way, guests will quickly get the idea that The Usual Place is anything but usual. I mean, really! All these all-star Italian chefs in one kitchen and there’s still peace and quiet in the dining room?
Four words: Effetivo! Autentico! Insolito! Incredibile!!