Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Former KVIL morning team opens Battuto Italian Kitchen in far north Dallas
It's Italian-influenced done up locally sourced Texas style.
FAR NORTH DALLAS Just inside the front door, to the left as you’re looking into Battuto Italian Kitchen, there’s a cordoned-off stairway. It’s subtle and understated; an effort to take a peek in the search for more information leads little headway. A quick inquisition eases the otherwise difficult investigation.
“Oh, that’s just storage for some of the stuff from the restaurants that were here before us,” says Julie Gates. “That was the best place we could find to put it.”
The stored items can serve as motivation for Julie Gates, as well as her husband Gene, who together opened Battuto last month on the corner of Preston and Frankford in Far North Dallas. The space, which has been a revolving door for casual restaurants over the past several years, has been completely refaced, refinished and redone by Gene and Julie, who, after seven years as the morning team on KVIL, find themselves occupied by a new vocation: restaurateurs. Battuto, which is the term used for the first step of an Italian soffrito and contains mostly aromatics and a few other ingredients of personal preference, is a fitting name for the restaurant, as it reflects the Gates’ passion for not only the way Italian food tastes, but its preparation and culture in general.
“We spent about a month driving around Italy, and one thing I really loved about Northern Italy is how casual, comfortable and relaxed all the restaurants were. It never felt like I had to get dressed up to go to dinner. Napa Valley has that same kind of vibe, and I love that vibe,” says Gene. “I also loved that it was farm-to-table before farm-to-table was some kind of a cliché. So ours is a bit of a hybrid, I guess – it’s inspired by that farm to table movement, it’s inspired by the way they cook in Italy, and it’s inspired by the way that we cook at home and the way my grandma cooked and rolled out noodles by hand and cut them with a knife.”
The open view into the kitchen gives the customer a peek into the creation of Battuto’s dishes. (Photo by Rich Vana)
The walls inside the comfortable and warmly designed Battuto are adorned with homages to its Italian influences; three art deco-style Mona Lisas dress the wall near the entryway while a bust of Napoleon’s sister Pauline – who married the Prince of the Villa Borghese – sits closes to the interior. Da Vinci drawings dot a back wall. They’re all ‘winks,’ as Gene puts it, to the restaurant’s primary country of influence.
“It’s really an Italian-themed restaurant. People often see Italian food and they think, ‘Oh, an Italian restaurant – they’re going to have Italian language on the menu, they’re going to say Buena sera! when I come in, the waiter’s going to hand my wife a red rose, and Chianti bottles are going to be on every table,’” Gene says. “But Battuto is nothing like that. There’s a couple nods to Italy, but they’re not screaming Italian. If you don’t know they’re Da Vinci, if you don’t know that he’s Italian, you might not even necessarily make the connection.”
And while Gene and Julie stay close to Italian cuisine, they also make the most of their geographical location.
“We asked ourselves, ‘If everywhere that surrounded us was in Italy, what would that food be like?’” Gene asks. “One example is, we’re doing a buffalo and pork ragu. Clearly, you’re not going to find bison on the menu in Florence, but we’re in Texas so we locally source buffalo out of Lawton, Oklahoma. We braise it with a Sangiovese from McPherson, which is a local Texas winery. Sangiovese is an Italian grape, of course, but it’s grown here. It’s sort of like our version of Italian food. There were some exceptions, though – some examples of things that you simply can’t replicate in America. Bufala mozzarella is an example: I love bufala, and you can’t make it locally – it doesn’t taste the same. So we import bufala from Naples. There’s also the double O, or double zero flour which I think is such a softer, almost like a baby powder-fine flour that doesn’t have the same gluten structure as other flours. So we bring that flour in. Our pasta is a great example of our approach; it’s eggs and it’s double zero flour, and when you only have 2 ingredients those equally have to be of superior quality. So we locally source our eggs to get them within a few days of being laid.”
Gustavo Herrera was tabbed as Battuto’s Head Chef, and is turning out plates such as braised short rib polenta and pizzas from Battuto’s gas-fired oven. Customers can see the kitchen at work through the large serving window at the back of the restaurant, while a large bar near the front provides a comfortable spot for a glass of wine after a day at work. Julie mentions their efforts to maintain a quality wine selection that’s friendly to the taste buds and the wallet.
“One one of the other things we wanted to do is we wanted to do a program where we offered familiar wines at a reasonable price,” she says. “There’s no wine that we’re going to buy for five dollars and sell for forty, you know what I mean? “We wanted to give people wine that they drink and that they like and that they want. And the reality is a lot of Italian wines don’t have that big of a following in Texas. So we do have some Italian wines for people that like them, but our wine list really is all over the place. We’ve got very affordable wines and we also have expensive wines.”
Both the wine and the food have an appeal that Gene and Julie hopes reaches the neighborhood surrounding their new restaurant, and with spots such as Coffee House Cafe and Cadot also helping to boost the culinary stature of the corner of Preston and Frankford, they may be helping to establish the area as a dining destination of its own.
“There’s a million of these communities in North Texas, they’re great places to raise kids, but we just identify with this neighborhood. But I don’t want to have to drive all the way to some of the great food places,” Julie says. “We’re talking the Design District, Bishop Arts, Highland Park – that’s where some of our favorite places are. But here’s the problem: if I want to have a glass or two of wine, I don’t want to be driving all the way back. So part of the reason was we wanted to have something in our neighborhood that we felt we could enjoy, in addition to going to all those other great places.”
They may have taken a spot that’s turned a few restaurants out, but Battuto is nothing like its predecessors in that spot. Warm, comfortable and inviting, the restaurant reflects Gene and Julie’s own personalities, and they’re just as likely to greet you even before the Mona Lisas can. The fate of the building’s predecessors? Considering the changes in concept, design and execution, what’s happened in that spot before Battuto is, ultimately, irrelevant. Like the furniture upstairs, they’re out of sight and out of mind – for Gene and Julie, Battuto is about the future.
“One of the great changes for us is it’s that it’s really great to do something that is from your heart; it’s what you want,” Gene says.
“And you hope that there’s enough people that like it that you can keep doing it.”
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas
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