Giampolo Falchetti was born and raised in Umbria, a landlocked region of Italy just north of Rome and south of Florence. Known as the country’s “green heart,” it borders neither water nor foreign land.
The Italian chef — though his wife and now business partner Kathryn Philbrook said he avoids that title — will bring memories from his native land to Tacoma’s Proctor District in the form of Crudo & Cotto. The intimate restaurant, located in the former Old House Cafe space, formally opened its doors Friday, Dec. 27. (It soft-opened Dec. 5).
Visitors to Olympia’s Basilico Ristorante might recognize the couple’s name, but the cuisine at 2717 N. Proctor St. will venture beyond the comfort of red sauce and bread baskets — though there is plenty of bread in the form of crostini and homemade focaccia.
“That was Giampolo’s big inspiration,” Philbrook told The News Tribune in an interview last week. Falchetti was unable to talk before Christmas (the restaurant served dinner on Christmas Eve) and in the heat of preparing for the restaurant’s formal opening.
“Basilico is our traditional Italian. He wanted to do something different,” she continued, echoing her description to Sue Kidd of the forthcoming restaurant last spring. “There are other really great Italian restaurants in the area. He didn’t want to recreate or do what other people are doing — he wanted to play with what’s here and celebrate that.”
From salmon and swordfish crudo to octopus carpaccio (both $15), seafood tops the menu here. Of course there are oysters — shucked tableside — as well as crudo highlighting local salmon and swordfish, the latter ribboned by Grana Padano and thyme ($15). Beef carpaccio, prosciutto di parma, house-cured gravlox or smoked novalox, and a pear-gorgonzola salad round out the “raw” portion of the concise menu.
Philbrook pointed to oysters as an important local delicacy to be featured at the restaurant, but cautioned that crustaceans and other water-bound delights sourced from the Puget Sound don’t necessarily mimic their Mediterranean counterparts.
“It’s really hard to recreate some specific Italian seafood dishes because the fish there is different; the flavors are different,” she said of her husband’s strategy for the menu at Crudo & Cotto, which will change quarterly, along with the seasons.
Falchetti wants to explore the nuances of those flavor differences, finding ways to tease out whispers of Italy — of his home — in the process.
Many of the recipes referenced for the Tacoma restaurant originated in Italian-only cookbooks and family lore. Indeed, a job posting for both front- and back-of-house staff mentions conversational proficiency in Italian as a “helpful bonus qualification,” alongside experience in European and Italian cuisine and oyster shucking.
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It will no doubt be cumbersome and perhaps entirely foolish to avoid the crudo at Crudo & Cotto. But the cotto side of the menu would likewise be difficult to skip.
Both the Fritto Misto ($18) and Zuppa di Mare ($29) combine four types of local crustaceans, while fried oysters ($16 with fries) offer another way to relish the Sound’s bounty.
On the larger side, Falchetti reaches to Southern Italy for a traditional preparation of braciole ($29): layers of mozzarella, prosciutto and Teres Major beef, pounded thin, cooked in your choice of either creamy truffle or herbed tomato sauce. There is also a half Cornish game hen ($24), basted in duck fat and served with roasted fingerlings and rainbow carrots.
Though Basilico offers a plethora of pastas, Falchetti’s inaugural menu in Tacoma rests at three, including a red-sauce tagliatelle with fried eggplant and a risotto with five mushroom varieties (both $18). Ravioli di Salmone ($23) brings more salmon to the plate — the homemade pillows stuffed also with Parmesan and lemony ricotta, served with a few bay scallops.
In short, said Philbrook, Falchetti — along with kitchen manager Lauren Ballweber, previously of 1022 South J — aims to “create a menu that will reflect the food he remembers eating as a child or as a young person” in Umbria.
Beverages embrace that mentality as well, through wine pours exclusively from the region (Washington and Oregon) or from Italy ($8 to $12). A short beer/cider list fits the same bill with one Italian lager and a German pilsner, plus Tacoma’s own Reuben’s Brews IPA and Incline’s marionberry cider.
Ten-dollar cocktails stay that simple-is-better course: a Vesper stirs local Fremont Mischief vodka and London dry gin with Cocchi Americano, an Italian wine aperitif. The Tacoma Mezza Notte is Crudo & Cotto’s take on the classic Manhattan but with a splash of amaro, and an Old-Fashioned is made with both bourbon and aged grappa.
Falchetti hopes guests will explore the small selection of Italian brandy, which Philbrook added remains somewhat of a “hidden gem” in America.
“People who have been to Italy are excited about having grappa after their meal, but it is still one of those things where people who are in the know get really excited about seeing an abundant list,” she said.
Lead server Franco D’Amico worked closely with Falchetti — whom he met in the early 2000s while selling wine at a Seattle-based distributor — on the beverage program.
He “brings a wealth of knowledge to the team,” said Philbrook, after years as general manager of Pacific Grill and several restaurants in Oregon and Seattle.
The muted yellow-sided building — owned by Bill Evans, who also runs The Pacific Northwest Shop across the street — was long home to The Old House Cafe and then Soul. Inside, blue velvet chairs line a handful of tables draped in white tablecloths.
“It feels bright and so open,” said Philbrook of the house’s “distinctive” architectural details, “but there are corners and nooks that feel cozy. It has a feeling of history, and yet we can also bring in something modern — a melding of the old and the new, old world Europe and the farthest western edge of the United States.”
The house, she continued, “really lent to that idea of bringing in something fresh and also having one foot in the past.”
The couple wanted to create a space that wasn’t so much familial as it was personal.
“We’ve been looking for three or four years, for the right place and the right time,” Philbrook said of their search for a space in Tacoma, their home of nearly five years. “We were not necessarily hoping to (open) in an old house, but when the space became available, it felt very right.”
Crudo & Cotto
▪ 2717 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, 253-292-1120, crudoandcotto.com
▪ Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 4:30-9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m.