Ñoquis con calabacín, tomate, azafrán y ricotta ahumada al enebro
Niko Romito
Country: Italy
City: 67031 Castel di Sangro (Aq)
Address: Località Casadonna, via Piana Santa Liberata
(+39) 0864 69382
Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays
Price: 80 €
Tasting menu:: 100 €

Niko Romito is a young cook who possesses unprecedented innate virtues. In a short time, he has become one of the greatest emergent chefs in Italy. At that amazing rate, he might end up reaching a place of honour among the very top of international cuisine. His main qualities? The sapid delicacy he transmits through his dishes, the harmony he puts flavours together, the lightness of his constructions, the beauty and the colour of forms, his extraordinary personal sensitivity, his ability and speed to learn, … Niko is consolidating, maturing and defining a refined, erudite and modern style, very balanced and rational, which is destined to please a quite large part of the public. All his behaviour and actions, very cerebral and tempered, are also ruled by a nonconformist evolutionism.
The variety of appetizers tells a lot about the chef’s devotion and generosity. Like the precious and succulent cod brandade moulded with milk and anchovies. The oyster with apple ice cream and tomato juice may be the most groundbreaking proposal on the menu, as it breaks the traditional combinations. The egg cooked at low temperature served with a quenelle of tomato that impregnates some crumbs, Pecorino cheese and a tile perfumed with herbs is a charming reinvention of the basic local ingredients. The aubergine cube cooked with an aubergine caramel and served over some burnt liquorice sugar together with rosemary hints lain in the form of dough with all its resin fragrance is unbelievable: what a consistency and what an aroma! The main idea is to “lacquer” the vegetable just like if it was a piece of meat. Superb exquisiteness elaborated in an impeccable way: this is how we can describe the goat broth subtly acidulated with a hint of raspberry juice and sweetened with tarragon in which you can see some delicious fresh raviolis stuffed with meat of the same animal. Another brilliant egg pasta combination: really velvety tortelli stuffed with artichoke cream and served with buratta with lively counterpoints of capers. The gnocchis with courgette, tomato, saffron, and juniper-smoked ricotta cheese rime with moving taste and colour; Italy in all its sapid splendour. The round raviolonis filled with really good Parmesan cheese proposed in a Tropea red onion broth (clear, precise and delicate flavour, called “absolute onion” by the chef; water extracted from the onion, previously cooked in salt) and Navelli saffron pistils are frankly magnificent. This variety of saffron makes this delicious dish immeasurable. And more pasta: spaghetti-capellini (Verrigni) cooked in tomato water, a bit of olive oil, pecorino cheese and basil infusion (present, but invisible): essential and consistent; pure taste. The pigeon, utterly juicy and tender, enhanced by the audacious company of foie gras and olive oil, is particularly exquisite. The chef makes a triple mid-air somersault to thunderous applause. Bravissimo! The lamb proposal, impeccable, deserves the same enjoyable and praiseworthy consideration. It is served in the form of tartar with a black olive tapenade, a rack soaked with crumbs and herbs, and a rosy piece wrapped into a green olive croquette; unbeatable intrinsic quality and doneness. The genius of the chef is expressed through the veal gelatine with truffles and almonds. On the bottom of the plate, some jelly of smoked veal broth perfumed with powdered funghi porcini, a caramelized disc of sugar and liquorice (technique, precision and subtlety), rehydrated almond dough and slices of black truffle. A little demonstration of style, good taste and culinary technique. What a great dish!
The fireworks go on with the desserts, like “Essence”. Placed in a line, imagine some almond, hazelnut and cocoa praline, some drops of passion fruit reduction, powdered shortbread pastry with coffee and tea, sour gentian sorbet (typical in the area) and pistils of the mythical Navelli saffron. Al this must be eaten together with a spoon. What a personality has the gentian got! And, even more important: what a memorable harmony!
In addition to the very attractive assortment of cheese, the selection of wines is remarkable (thank you Gianni, the sommelier) and the service, directed by Cristiana Romito, is very efficient.
Niko works in the middle of the Abruzzi region, far from everything, but close to the genuine, pure and unpolluted products of those wonderful mountains. Courage, quest for new means of expression, technique, refinement, good taste, meticulousness, culture and, principally, lack of banality and slapdash job: this is Niko’s language. Essence of the regional cuisine of Abruzzi, quintessence of perfumes, flavours and personality of this extraordinary land.
In August 2011, the Reale restaurant moved from Rivisondoli to the neighbouring town, Castel di Sangro. The brand new place is called Casadonna; an ambitious and global project. This old farm, tastefully restored in a mix of stone, wood, crystal and rough steel, has got several bedrooms and a kitchen that is connected online with the University of gastronomic sciences from Pollenzo. It acts as classroom and research and development lab for the students. The house also possesses an experimental vineyard run by the University of Milan located 840 metres high and where the following grape varieties are grown: pecorino, black pinot, Rhenish Riesling, veltriner and silvaner.