Cherry Street might be the newest Italian food joint on the block, but Chef Jason Dodge and partner/owner of Peche, Rob Pate, are far from being newcomers to Italian cuisine. Dodge has been doing this for years, quietly and methodically working away in the kitchen of Peche and before that at Vespaio.
Peche, which is known for its extensive Absinthe cocktail menu, also happens to be one of Austin’s best kept secrets for food. Think hearty risottos, fresh seafood, handmade pastas and whatever else inspires Chef Dodge that day. For Dodge, these classic Italian interpretations are just part of his everyday arsenal and the impetus behind his new restaurant venture, Cherry Street.
Chef Dodge shares his unique experience culinary expedition around Italy, and what he hopes to encompass at Cherry Street.
Recognized for his talent and passion for Italian fare, Austin's own Chef Dodge was recently invited to apprentice at Michelin-rated, Il Falconiere in Cortona, Italy. He shares his unique experience with CultureMap and pens the sights, sounds, smells of his culinary expedition around Italy, and what he hopes to encompass in his new menu at Cherry Street.
Tuesday, June 19
Our first night in Florence was spent just walking around and getting familiar with our surroundings. We had dinner at Trattoria Marione. It was delicious. I had a chicken liver crostini with pomodori as an appetizer, roasted lamb with potatoes (best lamb I've ever had), tiramisu (Jesus Christ, it was good), and vin santo (Italian dessert wine) with biscotti.
(That's a natural pairing, like figs and blue cheese.) Their house wine was also great. It was a clean Chianti classic — light in body with a fragrant nose and delicate flavor. The whole experience was a game changer, to say the least.
Wednesday, June 20
We left Florence the next day for the province of Arezzo. With no time to waste, I began staging in a kitchen just outside of Cortona called Il Falconiere, a highly acclaimed Michelin-rated restaurant and estate. The chef's name is Richard Titi. The restaurant is next to the Baracchi family’s vineyard, which makes several varieties of wines, from the just-released Pinot Noir to the fantastic sparkling wine made from Sangiovese grapes.
The food was very simple, but made with the best ingredients surrounding Cortona. Rabbit, fava beans, tomatoes, cheeses, wild boar, beef, venison, chicken, duck, pork, and beef, and even turkey were sourced locally. The seafood was limited to shrimp, tuna, sepia (cuttlefish) and blue marlin. It was an amazing experience to work side by side with such a talented crew. It was definitely inspiring.
Friday, June 22
Today, I made pasta with Ana, the mother of our friend Stefano. She's around 75 years old, and the quintessential Italian grandmother. She's originally from a small village outside of Rome. Everything I thought I knew about pasta was a lie. I've been using the wrong flour and the wrong technique… and I thought I made good pasta!
Now, it's time to pack for Florence and Lucca.
Saturday, June 23
We are in Firenze for an evening. We're having a Negroni at Bar Giacosa in a few hours; it’s where the Negroni was invented. The bar is actually owned by Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli now. It's a little over the top, but I'm getting the true recipe for negroni olives.
For dinner, we are going to Trattoria Parione. It's deluxe. It's one of the nicer restaurants in Florence, just north of the Arno River and housed in a palace of the 16th century. The wine list is supposed to be top notch.
And lastly, we just checked into the Four Seasons in the northwest part of town. Did I mention it's fashion week? And I'm having a glass of Capatosta Riserva 2008 for a quick pick-me-up after being on the train from Arezzo. Everything about this day has been ridiculously sumptuous.
Monday, June 25
We are getting ready to leave Lucca, unfortunately. It's such a wonderful city. We went to Museo della Cattedrale San Martino yesterday. There are relics dating back to the 3rd century. Clothes, paintings, jewelry, carvings and sculptures — it was all very unique. Pictures weren't allowed.
Lucca was, and still is, a stopping point from Rome to the Holy Land. Pilgrims would stop in Lucca to stash their goods. A lot of folks wouldn't come back. Silk was the basis for the economy. Lucca was a sovereign city for centuries, pretty much until Napoleon came along. After he took over, he gave it to his sister. Nice present, huh? After she died, his widow took it and turned the wall into a park. Skip ahead a few decades, and Lucca was the main manufacturer of toilet paper in Italy. Now it seems like art and tourism are its moneymakers.
Tuesday, June 26
After literally walking around the city, we wanted pizza. Because of the Roman influence, pizza is huge here. We found a joint called Bella M'Briani. All they do is pizza and panuozzi in a wood-burning oven. Fucking delicious.
I had the Principessa, which is prosciutto, soppressata, porcini mushrooms and provolone. Sounds great, huh? My wife, Amber, had a panuozzi with speck and mozzarella. A panuozzi is essentially baked pizza dough, sliced in half horizontally and rebaked with the goodies inside. It made the cut for the new menu I’m working on right now for my new restaurant. A Moretti was the beer of choice.
We also had lunch at Ale's Bar. Amber had the Prosciutto with melon and I had the Piatte Toscano, which had thinly sliced pancetta, prosciutto and Tuscan Salami with pecorino. A little olive oil and crusty bread made it perfect.
We're on a fast train to Monterosso now before heading home. I'm expecting to have trofie with pesto and fresh anchovies. Trofie is a unique pasta in that it’s made with just flour and water, no eggs. It’s rolled by hand into little squiggly shapes and served with basil pesto. If you've never made fresh pasta before, this is a good one to start with because you don't need a pasta machine and trofie is pretty much impossible to buy outside of Liguria (northwestern Italy). So with your labor comes bragging rights about making a pasta dish you can't just order in a restaurant.
After his summer expedition through Italy, Chef Jason Dodge has opened Cherry Street, located at 1612 Lavaca St. The official opening will take place in mid-October.