Opening an Italian restaurant in Dallas is tough. If there is any one cuisine that has almost every corner of every niche filled, it's Italian food.
From mom-and-pop spaghetti shops all the way to fine dining, finding a voice that sets one apart can be daunting. For Partenope Ristorante in downtown Dallas, their recipe is simple: Cook like you’re at home.
Dino Santonicola is well-versed in pizza, from both his upbringing in Naples and being the executive chef at Cane Rosso.
Megan and Dino Santonicola met while working together at Cane Rosso and married in 2015. The two co-founded Partenope soon after, and through some battles with bureaucracy and paperwork, opened their doors at 1900 Main St. in the Titche-Goettinger Building this September.
“Things have changed. They’re not like they were when we first started,” Dino says. “When you work in the restaurant business for so long, you can't work for someone else forever.”
Their aim for Partenope is to be genuine to the flavors and cuisine of Naples, Dino’s home city. The couple call their restaurant a “love letter to Naples” and are set on making every aspect of the dining experience reflect that.
Megan laughs about her introduction with Italian culture.
“It's very ‘Hey, how are you!’ with people wrapping their arm around you and welcoming you with food. It's a compliment to keep eating, so I fit in perfectly,” she says.
Owners say the restaurant is to feel like a living room, perhaps just a very blue living room.
The interior of Partenope is cool and relaxed. Dark seating scatters the dining area, and a pizza oven flickers orange and red light across the bar. Framed family portraits of Dino and Megan with their children sit along the back. A picture of Dino’s grandmother proudly holding a softball-sized sphere of buffalo mozzarella brings levity to the space.
“It's like a living room,” Dino says. “We want people to come into our living room and spend as much time as they can.”
Partenope evokes the same spirit in their menu. It's varied with pastas and pizza, but only with specific cuisine dialects. Megan mentions guests won't see all the “standards,” such as chicken Parmesan, found at most Italian places.
“You can get that anywhere else,” she says. “We want people to explore, we want people to find something new on our menu that they might like.”
Rigatoni alla Genovese
Partenope is concise in its simplicity, with an elegance that doesn’t present itself as overbearing or overly luxurious. It sits in its own corner, serving food that the husband and wife owners love to eat, with an inviting arm outstretched to anyone willing to join.
Partenope Ristorante, 1900 Main St., Suite 102 (downtown). 214-463-6222. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.