Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ristorante Di Sopra relaunches with vivid new menu items, homemade pasta

Posted By on Sun, Jul 19, 2020 at 1:58 PM

click to enlarge Pappardelle all' Aragosta: lobster, mushrooms and shallots in a brandy-lobster cream sauce over house-made pasta. It's rare to see the pasta itself outshine lobster meat; it does here, beautifully made. Chef/owner Franco Pisani describes it as a lobster veloute sauce. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pappardelle all' Aragosta: lobster, mushrooms and shallots in a brandy-lobster cream sauce over house-made pasta. It's rare to see the pasta itself outshine lobster meat; it does here, beautifully made. Chef/owner Franco Pisani describes it as a lobster veloute sauce.

Ristoranti Di Sopra reopens as of July 20 for nightly fine dining service, after opting to go dark during the first stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. When we last visited critically three years ago when it first opened, we surmised it was quite "an experience" on the whole. Seventeen-year-old Paravicini's still anchors the location downstairs.

Chef/owner Franco Pisani describes Paravicini's as more of a bistro/trattoria (essentially less formal), while Sopra fulfills his desire for a true ristorante (aiming for elegance), cigar-patio (after 8 p.m.) attached. "The difference between up and downstairs is really between a three-step and five-step dish," he says, relating that to both space available and volume-dining downstairs. "I don't want to say 'elevated' because it's overused," he says. "But our entrées at Sopra are the next level up." He likens it to what he wants to eat when he's in Las Vegas fine dining spots.

click to enlarge Branzino: Mediterranean Sea Bass in citrus-saffron broth over risotto with fresh fennel. The fish, procured through Shamrock Foods Company's Pier 22 Seafood Co., tastes remarkable fresh and delicate. The delightful, saffron-strong broth is poured around it carefully at plating, so the skin stays crispy and doesn't sog. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Branzino: Mediterranean Sea Bass in citrus-saffron broth over risotto with fresh fennel. The fish, procured through Shamrock Foods Company's Pier 22 Seafood Co., tastes remarkable fresh and delicate. The delightful, saffron-strong broth is poured around it carefully at plating, so the skin stays crispy and doesn't sog.

Pisani invited us to the second night (of three) of a staff training/soft reopening as his guests to sample several items new to Sopra's menu. Perhaps most excitingly, Pisani recently purchased a $6,000 pasta-making machine from Italy so that six pasta plates on the menu now feature house-made pastas. As evidenced by our taste of the Pappardelle all' Aragosta pictured above, the fresh dough even outshined the lobster meat for us. 

As part of this reopening, to address limited capacity around Covid mandates, Pisani has removed a large community table on the inside dining space at Sopra and spread tables out evenly; the patio with a peak view also complies with distancing guidelines. Aside from that layout change, Pisani says "I had this concept in mind pre-Covid. Our entrée specials were outselling our shared plates. People can still get shared appetizers, but now our focus is on big, beautiful entrées.

Pisani's recipes are mostly classic with some modern, stylized touches, such as the vibrant citrus-saffron saucing on the excellent Mediterranean sea bass Branzino plate. (Capers, lemon, white wine and butter is more commonly seen.) 

click to enlarge The Osso-Bucco features slow-roasted veal shank — marrow bone-in — over Parmesan risotto Milanese. Another veal option offered is a bone-in chop served with burrata cheese. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Osso-Bucco features slow-roasted veal shank — marrow bone-in — over Parmesan risotto Milanese. Another veal option offered is a bone-in chop served with burrata cheese.

"I'm 52 and I still come up with shit," jokes Pisani, always a loud and lively character that regular patrons have come to adore. His point being he's not resting on Paravini's popularity and calling it a day creatively in the kitchen. He says he believes in seasonal specials versus seasonal menus so that guests have a general consistency from visit to visit.

click to enlarge A sample portion of Chicken Scarpariello features outstanding Sara's Sausage spicy Italian sausage pieces mixed with chicken thighs, potatoes, peppers, garlic and onions. Its sauce is made from both veal and chicken stock: "The chicken stock was too light to stand up to the sausage," says chef/owner Franco Pisani. "The veal stock helps it stand up." Making house veal stock is a two-day process. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A sample portion of Chicken Scarpariello features outstanding Sara's Sausage spicy Italian sausage pieces mixed with chicken thighs, potatoes, peppers, garlic and onions. Its sauce is made from both veal and chicken stock: "The chicken stock was too light to stand up to the sausage," says chef/owner Franco Pisani. "The veal stock helps it stand up." Making house veal stock is a two-day process.

Pisani's pretty transparent and blunt about what he knows customers want that he feels he has to do, or else suffer the loss of stars on social media platforms. His take is the large chain restaurants created an expectation for "hot bread and cheese on everything." So folks may not appreciate house-baked bread if it's not rewarmed for them, and they expect the offer of crumbled Parmesan cheese with entrées.

We landed on that topic of conversation because I asked Pisani why we were offered the Parmesan with our Osso-Bucco plate when it had need for nothing and I wondered how the tangy cheese would alter the veal's taste.

"I cook for what people want to buy," he concludes with a playful sorry-not-sorry tone fitting for a chef who's equally a businessman. Which probably helps explain Paravicini's longstanding success and why this revamped Sopra seems off to a stellar relaunch.

click to enlarge The Caesar and Sopra salads. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Caesar and Sopra salads.

click to enlarge Apéritifs tease the palate before the meal. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Apéritifs tease the palate before the meal.

Come dessert time, Pisani shows a sampling of very well-executed Italian favorites: a black cherry Merlot panna cotta, Nutella-chocolate cannoli and an affogato with a hazelnut liquor back.   
click to enlarge An affogato plate places an espresso shot over vanilla ice cream with a Frangelico liqueur back and side of biscotti. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • An affogato plate places an espresso shot over vanilla ice cream with a Frangelico liqueur back and side of biscotti.
click to enlarge Black cherry Merlot panna cotta nails a perfect jiggly texture and the wine flavor's super strong in the saucing — an oenophile's best choice. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Black cherry Merlot panna cotta nails a perfect jiggly texture and the wine flavor's super strong in the saucing — an oenophile's best choice.
click to enlarge A Nutella-chocolate cannoli brings even more hazelnut flavor to dessert when paired with the affogato. The crisp cannoli shell exudes cinnamon essence while the granular ricotta filling strikes a nice cacao-hazelnut balance. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A Nutella-chocolate cannoli brings even more hazelnut flavor to dessert when paired with the affogato. The crisp cannoli shell exudes cinnamon essence while the granular ricotta filling strikes a nice cacao-hazelnut balance.

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