Italian tapas? Yes, really. Set just a few blocks from the behemoth RBS and UBS banks, Cotto is a Rome-themed wine bar tucked snugly on Bank Street in Stamford, Conn., right off the nexus of Main Street and Atlantic Street. The Stamford hub train station is close as well, making it an easy walk to this new gem owned by Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi.
Owner Claudio Ridolfi admits that tapas is a Spanish concept, but Cotto, which means "cooked" in Italian, is also not your typical Italian joint either, adapting itself to the evolving palate of customers by selling more small plates.
"Assaggini is the closest word we have in Italian," said Ridolfi. "It means a sort of sampling of courses, like tapas."
Upon entering, diners are greeted with photos and press releases of Silvy Ridolfi’s mother, an Italian film star whose image graces the long left wall that leads to the kitchen, decked in copper.
A long, beautiful bar adorned with overhanging lights dominates the right side of the room, its light suffusing the soft green and brown hues of the dining room. The room is capped off with a gorgeously curved ceiling made from wooden slats creating an artistic tunnel effect. The cozy wine bar sets the mood for sampling several of the 200 Italian labels on offer.
As in other restaurants across the country, small bites have taken over the menu, not only because of the attractive price points, which have been even more enticing given the dismal economy, but also for diners’ ongoing desire to try many foods in smaller portions.
The fusion of Italian with Spanish thus markets Cotto as non-traditional Italian.
"In other words, we’re not serving you chicken parm here," said chef Greg Depelteau.
Nevertheless, the menu doesn’t just contain cold and hot tapas but brick-oven pizzas, entrées like the popular hanger steak and veal Milanese, and pastas like lamb Maltagliata are also present. You can order plates of glistening charcuterie, mozzarella, arancini, and formaggi. There are also different panini.
"You can come get many different things here," adds Depelteau. "We have lots of specials and the menu is constantly evolving."
As far as the tapas, the lamb sliders, eggplant caponata, and olive bruschetta are standouts. For pasta, the potato gnocchi, which Depelteau is known for, have such a soft but firm texture that the simple dish made from flour, potato, Parmesan, salt, egg yolks and eggs must be savored.
The noteworthy entrée, however, is the hanger steak. This is one of those dishes where everyone nods in unison as they chew vigorously; a serious hit, it is available with eggs on the Sunday brunch menu, too.
Ridolfi and his wife fell in love with the cafés of Rome and have brought that essence to Stamford while mixing traditional and creative Italian cuisines, which is why there are a few pleasant fusion surprises on the menu like a Nutella pizza, which is a delicious marriage of creamy hazelnut chocolate and fine Italian pizza.
Mark Damon Puckett has written for Saveur and Greenwich Magazine. He is the author of The Reclusives, YOU with The Ill-usives, and The Killer Detective Novelist (October 2012), all available on amazon.com and bn.com. Please visit him at www.markdamonpuckett.com.