Italian food is almost universally accepted as America’s Favorite Ethnic Food. It’s so mainstream nowadays that we forget that as few as 50 years ago it was considered a very foreign cuisine. We are so saturated with pizza in Wichita (Italian cuisine’s gateway drug) that we have acquired a taste for tomato sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella. We love spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna. We want our pasta drenched in sauce and cheese. This Americanized Italian food is delicious, don’t get me wrong. I grew up on Ragu sauce with Kraft Parmesan cheese and ground beef meatballs.
Authentic Italian food is a lot more subtle. Pasta dishes are more about the pasta than the sauce. Ingredients are simple and their flavors are allowed to shine. Cheese and garlic are used when appropriate and with restraint. I am always reminded of the scene from the movie Big Night in which the chef is disgusted by his customer’s expectation of heaps of Parmesan cheese on top of everything—including, horror of horrors, shellfish.
It has been hard to find this more nuanced Italian cuisine in Wichita, until quite recently. I just visited Bocconcini, a new restaurant that is housed in the remodeled former Sugar Sisters space on Central, near Oliver. Chef/owner Nathan Toubia opened it a few months ago to great reviews. He’s earned all that praise. Our meal was delicious.
I started with a glass of sangiovese and a salad of arugula, pear, walnut and Gorgonzola. The arugula was tiny and spiky and sharp, and tossed in a light olive oil vinaigrette, with lots of creamy cheese and crunchy nuts. Wayne chose fettuccine Alfredo with chicken, and the pasta was perfectly cooked, with just enough bite. The sauce was creamy and rich and clung lightly to the noodles but didn’t drown them. I had pork saltimbocca, a dish of sautéed pork medallions wrapped in prosciutto and served with a buttery wine sauce. It came with a creamy polenta cake and broccoli rabe that set off the pork beautifully. We were too full for dessert but the tiramisu looked really good. The service was excellent and we had a great time. The meal was very reasonably priced and I can’t wait to go back.