The couple believe that their restaurant is an extension of their home. Therefore when people come in, they are treated like guests. Hospitality is a priority, and the decor of the restaurant reflects that. From the wooden furniture, to the unusual and inviting mustard colored table cloths, there is a certain attention to detail given to every aspect of service. This of course extends to each component of the food, from raw ingredients to the final presentation.
While most chefs are very busy, with little time to sit and chat, the Verzinos made plenty of time for us Chow Bella folk. The pair works closely together, and it was not unusual for Marcellino to begin answering a question while Sima finished, so each response is appropriately something melded from the two.
After a short time, it's easy to feel as though you've known them for ages. Their recounting of their childhoods, holiday dinners, and large family gatherings is reminiscent of stories you've undoubtedly heard from your own parents, and countless others. It's that sort of warm, amiable atmosphere, (in addition to the brilliant food) that makes Marcellino's so remarkable. Today, the discussion continues.
Culinary style: (As Sima explains:) Italian cuisine -- so many people are confused, and they always ask that question, "Well, are you Northern or are you Southern?" That has nothing to do with it. Every country has regional food...because they're inland, they're in mountains, they're by the sea. Before transportation came about people would cook with what was available to them in that region. So it has nothing to do with Northern or Southern. There's a lot of space in between all that. So...he developed his own cuisine with respect to the regional cuisines in Italy. There is no fusion about him.
The importance of freshness: Usually, at this time of year, we eat everything from the garden. But we had a javelina attack...it destroyed everything. We still grow all the herbs for the restaurant. All the vegetables got ruined...because the javelinas invaded. [But it's] really important that everything is so fresh.
Up and coming: When we open for lunch, [after September] we will have pizza on the menu for lunch. And maybe after 10:00 at night. Maybe.
Special events: (As Sima describes:) Every Thursday night the "chef island" heralds 15 people...and Marcellino makes a tasting dinner paired with wines, and everything is cooked in the wood-fired oven. He also makes pizza to start out as the antipasto. Those are really beautiful evenings, and we priced it really well. For $80 per person, it includes the multi-course dinner and the wine pairings...He's back there dancing, and having fun, and toasting everybody, and cooking like he's hardly breaking a sweat.
(Reservations are required for the tasting, but can accommodate singles, couples, or groups. Also, every Friday and Saturday night features music from members of the Phoenix Opera Company.)
Check back tomorrow for a simple summer recipe from Chef Marcellino.