Over the Christmas break I traveled to New York City and Washington D.C., where I ate seven meals a day doing my best to absorb as much as possible in each city. While I wandered around, I discovered a few trends on my own, in restaurants that have opened since I last visited — ramen shops and Izakayas seemed to point to rapidly expanding Japo-fetishism, for instance — but I also asked friends and family what they had noticed opening over the last year. Most of them remarked a deluge of Italian restaurants.
Some of the new restaurants focus on regional Italian cooking, some specialize in Italian American cooking in an attempt to recreate a lost age. Trends in larger cities have a way of trickling down to smaller ones, and there is evidence this one has already kicked off here in Dallas.
Already a number of big-name restaurants have been planned. John Tesar's Fork will focus on Italian cooking from Tuscany and Milan. With any luck, his new restaurant will open before the end of the year in the Design District. Over at the Joule, the replacement for Charlie Palmer has been announced as an Italian restaurant named Americano, which should be opened this year, too. The menu for Americano is still a work in progress, but the owners say they'll attempt to capture Italy in the 1960s, bringing Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita to life with authentic cooking.
If the trend continues, we could see a few more restaurants announced in the coming months, and certainly there's an opportunity for chefs that want to tackle Italian cooking. Only a handful of Italian restaurants have opened in the past four years in Dallas, and there are fewer worth visiting. If American diners are ready to embrace pasta — carbohydrates be damned! — there's a lot of room for business owners to break out with new restaurants dusted in semolina.
I just hope someone is brave enough to tackle Italian American with a new spin. To date, Carbone's is the only restaurant willing to take on Sal's, Campisi's and other old school restaurants that have ruled over Italian American cookery in Dallas for decades, and not very well. Last Saturday I drove by Carbone's on the way to another meal around 8 p.m., and there was a line out the door. It's obvious customers are willing to pay a little more for this classic cuisine prepared with high quality ingredients and cooked with care. Bring on the red sauce.