My good friend Andrea Frizzi, chef-owner of Il Posto Restaurant in Denver (www.ilpostodenver.com) and a native of Milan, Italy, has been a frequent topic of my writing in the Colorado Statesman and Tasting Panel Magazine, among other outlets. We also plan trips together for his customers, including a Wine On The Road tour of Campania, Italy, that is scheduled for September 14-21, 2014 (click here for more details).
A recent lunch at Il Posto with my friend Paul David (www.winepairings.biz), where we enjoyed the new Due Piatti two-course lunch menu (there’s also a Quattro Piatti, or four-course menu, available at dinner) has again convinced me what a wonderful restaurant it actually is. I’d like to explain why, with the goal of generalizing a bit on what, in my opinion, actually makes a good, local eatery. I’ve also included some recent wine list recommendations at the end of this column.
The Folks Behind the Food and Wine
Frizzi knows that great neighborhood restaurants please regular customers without excluding newcomers. He passionately extends this philosophy to his food, beverages and service. “Luckily my customers love classic Italian dishes built on fresh, top-notch ingredients, great wines made from obscure grapes, and culinary knowledge delivered by helpful, knowledgeable staff.”
Andrea is right about all of this, especially the last part — it all comes down to people. I spent some time with Pastry Chef Natalia Spampinato and Sommelier Maxwell Koepke in order to better understand the magic behind the scenes. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the rest of the all-star crew that includes Sous Chefs Jeff Webb and Mario Pacheco and Dining Room Supervisor Kelly Waldo. But this time I focused on Max, a two-and-a-half year Il Post veteran, and Natalia, who has been with Andrea almost five years.
Max, who has a degree in art history, came to his Italian wine happy place in the remote ski town of Telluride, Colorado, of all places, where he was employed by Alpino Vino at the very top of the mountain. “But I’ve always been drawn to Italian wines, having long ago lived in Umbria’s Orvieto. There I fell in love with the local culture and art. Wine naturally followed.”
Like Max, Natalia, who has worked at Frasca, TAG, Panzano, and the High Rise bakery, has brought a plethora of influences to her jazzed-up sweets. “At Frasca I learned about northern Italian desserts, which are very central European in nature. But my family is actually from the south of Italy, where candies and marzipan rule. Italian food is so diverse and I incorporate elements from all over the country.”
Il Posto’s mission, which should resonate with every local restaurant owner, is to do everything possible to provide a unique dining experience. The menu and wine list change every day, and Max appreciates how this fits into what he knows of the Italian persona. “Italy is not a stagnant place and we try to show that. Our wines must be symbiotic to the food as well as seasonal in nature. We’re trying to create good meals in all senses of the word: sustainable, organic, healthy and, of course, delicious.”
At first, when Max met with distributor reps, he was presented with bottles that weren’t necessarily appropriate. “For example, I try not to carry more than one pinot grigio because it’s too easy for customers to use it as a conversation stopper. ‘Oh look, a pinot grigio, let’s get that.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with the grape. But that’s not the sort of experience we’re trying to create here. I had to tell all of my reps – no more pinot grigio!” What Max is actually trying to show is that it makes no sense to write off wines varietally. “I open minds by pouring tasters.”
“So much effort goes into the product we put out every day,” says Natalia. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas and ways to showcase top ingredients.” The farm-to-table movement fits perfectly into that philosophy. “As local as possible. Using produce from specific, local farmers is so cool!” So is the level of personal experience she provides, as she’s been known to bake cakes for special occasions, prompted only by a good customer’s phone request. “I have to do it. Another diner brought a supermarket cake with him and I replaced it with something homemade. We’re not just about bombolini!”
Recommendations from the Pros
As previously mentioned, the menu changes every day, so it’s hard to make meaningful recommendations for future visits. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see what Max and Natalia say on this topic because this provides a window into their artistry and a different way to understand their passion and craft.
My favorite Il Posto appetizer is the calamari, a staple on the menu that is never fried, always stuffed with breadcrumbs and capers, and usually dressed in a light red sauce. Max feels that such a salty, substantial morsel deserves a similarly textured wine. “I’d head to southern Italy, perhaps the Marche or Abruzzo.” He recommends Belisario’s Verdicchio di Matelica Le Salse 2012, on the list at a very reasonable $35 per bottle.
The homemade pappardelle is often combined with sausage and/or mushroom ragu, essentially Tuscan in nature, but Max feels that Campanian wine works as well. “The 1999 Mastroberardino Radici Riserva ($148) is deep, bold, earthy, and it begs for pork. All of that black fruit and tannin!”
As for dessert, Natalia is particularly fond of serving her apple fritters with Val D’Aostian cider. “The layers of apple aromas and flavors just explode when one is matched with the other. We carry Maley’s 2012 bottling ($42) and it’s pretty special in this context.”
At my pleading, Max consented to recommend a wine for Natalia’s amazing bombolini. “What about non-vintage bubbles? Both the Santome Prosecco (from the Veneto-Treviso area, $35) and the Ferrari Pinot Nero Brut (Alto Adige, $68) would be fabulous with her delicate nuggets of fried dough.”
If you live in Denver and haven’t tried Il Posto you’re missing out on something special. If you’re not a local but find yourself at loose ends while in the Queen City of the Plains, by all means check it out. And happy holidays to everyone!
CAMPANIA UNFILTERED WITH ANDREA FRIZZI AND IL POSTO RESTAURANT: SEPTEMBER 14-21, 2014 IN CAMPANIA, ITALY
Explore one of the world’s most renowned wine regions with behind-the-scenes access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. With Wine on the Road tours, Il Posto’s chef/owner Andrea Frizzi and wine writer Ben Weinberg have created the ultimate in wine-focused, behind-the-scenes wine country experiences, combining award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor.
Highlights of the Campania Unfiltered tour include:
• Seven days in Campania during the heart of harvest focused on acclaimed wine estates, wineries selected by Andrea and Ben for their distinctive expressions of local terroir and culture
• Up-close-and-personal time with well-known winemakers, as well as one-of-a-kind, winery-focused tours, tastings, meals and lodgings
• Superior accommodations at the Radici Resort in the heart of wine country
• A cooking class with Andrea focused on regional specialties and techniques
• Privately guided tours of bustling Naples (the “Great Pizzas” excursion) and hallowed Pompeii
• Unique non-wine experiences such as helping to make world-renowned Mozzarella di Bufala in its hometown of Caserta, attending cultural events, and joining up with locals for evening activities
• Optional activities such as visiting local markets, personal appointments with select artisans who handcraft unique local products, golf, and spa treatments
Price is $5,995 per person, paid in U.S. funds ($), based on double occupancy for between eight-and-twelve paid attendees, land only, excluding airfare, gratuities and other optional activities. For additional information on this extraordinary touring opportunity, or to download the Preliminary Itinerary and Booking Form, go to www.wineontheroad.com/campaniaunfiltered.php.
WINE, BEES, AND CHEESE DINNER AT HOTEL JEROME:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2013, STARTING AT 7:00 P.M.
As if the holidays in Aspen could get any better, Executive Chef Rob Zack is hosting a decadent dinner featuring truffles and the wines and flavors of Piedmont, Italy. Rob will be joined by Jill Paradise, a sommelier, cheese aficionado, and an expert on the farm-to-table movement who will be bringing truffles and hazelnuts from her farm in Italy. Certified Sommelier and professional wine writer Ben Weinberg will also be in attendance. Ben and Jill will be leading Chef Rob and perhaps you on “Wine, Bees, and Cheese,” a week-long, luxury foodie tour through the Piedmont region of Italy that takes place from April 27 – May 4, 2014. This tour combines award winning wine, exquisite dining, extraordinary side trips and luxury accommodations into a one of a kind experience that exposes the best of each region’s flair and flavor. Come learn more about the journey while sampling local delicacies. For a menu and reservations call (970) 429-7610.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We dine at authentic local restaurants, participate in local cultural activities, and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
Planned excursions in the first half of 2014 include trips to Piedmont, Italy with the Hotel Jerome (www.wineontheroad.com/winebeesandcheese.php) and to Oregon’s wine country with Table 6 Restaurant (www.wineontheroad.com/oregonwithtable6.php) in late April and May. We will also be heading to Italy’s Campania (www.wineontheroad.com/campaniaunfiltered.php) and France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux (with time in Paris, www.wineontheroad.com/champ-burgunfiltered.php) in late 2014. You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by checking out www.wineontheroad.com or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommended Wines (750mL bottles unless otherwise indicated)
Il Posto’s elevated Italian cuisine reflects Frizzi’s passion and takes inspiration from all over Italy while incorporating touches of molecular gastronomy into the mix. Each meal starts with a bit of Lambrusco, what Frizzi refers to as his engine-starter. Wines at $40-60 are the heart of Il Posto’s all-Italian list but there are plenty of bottles on either side of that zone.
Opici Lambrusco NV (Lombardy, Italy) $9/glass, $34/bottle
Kuenhof Sylvaner Eisacktaler DOC 2010 (Alto Adige, Italy) $13/glass, $51/bottle
Contra Soarda Vespaiolo DOC 2011 (Veneto, Italy) $51/bottle
Beneventano Rosato di Aglianico Albarosa IGT 2010 (Campania, Italy) $11/glass, $43/bottle
Contra Soarda Marzemino Nero Gaggion IGT 2008 (Veneto, Italy) $12/glass, $46/bottle
Poliziano Morellino di Scansano Lohsa DOCG 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $12/glass, $47/bottle
Bersano Dolcetto d’Alba Coldelfosso DOP 2010 (Piedmont, Italy) $54/bottle
Donnas Nebbiolo DOC 2007 (Valle D’Aosta, Italy) $58/bottle
Vinosia Taurasi Aglianico DOCG 2007 (Campania, Italy) $16/glass, $62/bottle