There’s nothing more comforting than the flavors of a home-cooked meal and the warm welcome that comes with it. On a recent visit the new Italian restaurant Vino Vino, I couldn’t help but imagine sitting in a farmhouse on the rolling hills of a vineyard in the Italian region of Puglia, one of the top agricultural regions of Italy. This is truly a farm-to-table type Italian experience. You could smell the fresh basil, the ripening cheeses, freshly baked bread and the bouquet of a newly opened bottle of red wine swirling in your glass. Ahhh!
It didn’t hurt that Vino Vino!, a new restaurant near the post office on Siesta Drive just off Tamiami Trail, is intimate in size, offering a total of 35 seats and hosted by the affable servers Ciro and Marco. Decorated with over 100 varietals of Italian wine, colorful art and subdued lighting, Mart called the decor “postcard welcoming” and I agree. Each guest is greeted with a complimentary glass of Prosecco and authentic Frisella bread, baked fresh each day using a starter Chef Rocco brought to Sarasota from his hometown in Puglia. Chef also adds a few housemade breadsticks and fresh taralli
fennel crackers similar in texture to a pretzel. Overall yummy when enjoyed with a sip of red wine like the Apulia Primitivo Di Manduria that also heralds from Puglia.
Home-made Bread from Vino Vino!
Guests at Vino Vino! can’t help but get a lesson on the unique and rustic flavors from the Puglia region of Italy. This is a must-try restaurant for that reason alone. A focused attention to Puglian was an intentional choice by Chef Rocco and a way to set Vino Vino! apart from all the other Italian restaurants in Sarasota. To keep his menu authentic Chef Rocco has sourced his ingredients and shaped his menu to mirror the traditional Italian cuisine of his youth, and where he learned to cook scratch-made pasta, bread, and more.
Le Friselle Baresi
One of the first dishes we enjoyed was the Le Friselle Baresi, an Apulia-style bruschetta topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, capers, onion, and basil. Puglia is generally a warm climate making its tomatoes and other fresh vegetables an accompaniment to any meal and a core part of each dish. And boy, do they shine in this appetizer! The acids from the vine-picked tomatoes balance perfectly with the aromatics and deliver a juicy bite in the Bruschetta. The Friselle is a bagel-shaped roll that is first baked in the oven until it rises, then sliced crosswise, and toasted again until perfection. This yields a crisp, denser bread to host that juicy tomato bruschetta from the first bite to last while remaining crunchy and delicious!
Cacioccavallo Cheese with Capiacollo
If you love cheese, there are dozens of varieties to enjoy at Vino Vino!, whether by the slice or cooked into a favorite dish. Our second shared appetizer featured grilled caciocavallo
cheese toasted to a dark, crunchy brown hue that changed the flavor profile just a bit. Chef Rocco had added a few fresh pieces of caciocavallo on our bruschetta plate, and I couldn’t decide if I liked the grilled cheese better than the freshly sliced. It is a milder cheese similar to provolone that paired well with the sliced capicola
dry-cured pork stacked in the center of the dish.
Puglia is the birthplace of Orecchiette pasta which literally means “little ears”, and after trying caciocavallo cheese two different ways in the appetizers, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with another chance to enjoy this delightful cheese cooked into this famous pasta. What I really loved, besides the creamy caciocavallo sauce, was the hints of capicola that lit up my taste buds with every bite and the toasty focaccia bread crumbs that added a unique crunch to the dish. I’ll take an order to go!
Orecchiette Cime Di Rep
Considered the most famous Apulia dish, the Orecchiette Cime Di Rep features those lovely homemade pasta shells bathed in olive oil, garlic, broccoli rabe, and a hint of anchovies. This was the most rustic of the three pasta dishes we shared, as I just knew it was a favored family recipe from Chef’s family, something his great grandmother may have thrown together one Sunday afternoon after picking ingredients from the garden. The slight bitterness of the greens was lovely against the creaminess of the pasta, while the anchovies only added a hint of salty brininess, but since each dish is made to order, Chef Rocco will leave them off the dish, if so preferred. Another sure winner in our opinion.
Gnocchi di Ricotta Spinaci
Taking a step away from orecchiette, our final shared pasta dish was Gnocchi di Ricotta Spinaci. This dish also took me to that farmhouse in Puglia, as each gnocchi is made by hand at Vino Vino! Featuring spinach and ricotta gnocchi simmered in a rosé sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, fresh cream, and Parmesan Reggiano, this dish is simple in appearance while delivering a depth of flavor to the sauce . . . no doubt from the sun-dried tomatoes. The gnocchi was perfectly bite-sized and chewy enough to soak up the rosé sauce like a champ.
Seafood is a star in the cuisine of Puglia with her long coastline offering a large array of fresh fish, so Vino Vino! naturally has a number of fish offerings on their menu. But for us three, we were focused more on the cuisine from the interior of Puglia, known for its’ rocky volcanic hills dotted with grazing sheep and goats, with lamb being the most popular protein in the region. So we skipped the sea in favor of the hills and invited our server to recommend a red wine to compliment our entrees. His recommendation resulted in a Puglia Leggermente Appassite, a velvety red wine with oaky, chocolate, and vanilla notes that helped highlight not only the red meat but also the sauces they were bathed in.
Vino Vino’s Le Braciole was a real treat! Flank steak is sliced paper-thin and rolled with pecorino cheese, garlic, herbs, and parsley then slow-cooked in a homemade ragù sauce. There are dozens of ways to make a classic Braciole, and Chef Rocco’s version is pure Puglia, showcasing the bright flavors of fresh tomatoes and a dash of olive oil, a popular export from Puglia. The flavor was as bright and fresh as the photo above would suggest and there wasn’t a hint of the red sauce left on the plate once we were done with it.
I didn’t grow up eating lamb very often, so maybe that why it’s become a favorite protein for me as an adult. So trying a new lamb dish is always intriguing for me. The Angello Murgese features lamb chops sauteed with garlic and mushrooms and finished with a Primitivo
wine sauce . . . again, classic Puglia cuisine. Rich and robust, this dish was the perfect “last dish” of the evening for me. I was so enamored with all the flavors we’d enjoyed that night, I couldn’t imagine a better first visit. But then . . .
Dolce Della Notte
Vino Vino! doesn’t have a set dessert menu, so while I called this Dolce Della Notte (dessert of the night,) Chef would be inclined to call it dessert a la minute! He pretty much creates them each evening based on what inspires him that day. Our shared dessert (note: Three spoons! We did share!) consisted of shortbread crumble on the bottom, layered with a custard lemon zest creme, topped with a cocoa creme, and sprinkled with chocolate chips. Topping the dessert off were three amaretto cookies imported from Puglia. This was light and crunchy and so good. I hadn’t wanted dessert, but once this arrived I wanted a bigger spoon!
Suggestions if you want to visit Vino Vino. . . Being a small restaurant, reservations are suggested. Secondly, ask your server if Chef Rocco has any inspired specials that night (like the Orecchiette Caciocavallo we enjoyed in the pasta course). There are over 100 varietals of wine in the house and your server can recommend a few that would pair best with your dish. Expect a wine from Puglia! And, if you order dessert expect to be astounded. Every.Time.