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It feels like walking into a modern bistro and bar on the Gulf of Naples. That's certainly the vibe Chef Giovanni Novella and Food Fight Restaurant Group were going for with Bar Corallini, and they've nailed it.
Bar Corallini, which opened a few weeks ago in the former Chocolaterian space, marries classic Italian cuisine with a modern aesthetic and ingredient list. Negronis on tap, a menu inspired by the chef's Italian roots and a showstopping interior offer an ideal summer hangout. This week is especially appropriate to usher in Food Fight's 20th restaurant opening as it's Negroni Week, celebrating the classic Italian drink that will be available regularly at Corallini. Negroni Week, organized by Imbibe magazine and Campari, celebrates 100 years of the cocktail, and benefits No Kid Hungry with every drink sale.
If you need more convincing to check this place out, let us count the reasons why.
No. 1: Chef Giovanni Novella puts his best foot forward with this restaurant.
There would be no Bar Corallini without him — the restaurant's concept is inspired by Novella's hometown of Torre del Greco in Naples, Italy. "Corallini" means "little coral" in Italian and is also a nickname given to the people of Torre del Greco, who are known for their use of red coral to make coral jewelry and cameo brooches. Chef Giovanni, who didn't speak any English when he came to the United States eight years ago, was formerly the executive chef for Food Fight's Cento and Fresco restaurants. This restaurant is tailored to showcase Novella's Italian roots. On the menu are Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven, polpo con patate (octopus and potatoes), plus other dishes and appetizers featuring fresh, house-made mozzarella. But the menu's focal point is pasta, including such dishes as gnocchi alla romana, tagliatelle alla Bolognese and eight finger cavatelli.
No. 2: Bar Corallini makes its own fresh pasta.
There's a reason the pasta is the star here — if it's not made fresh by Novella and his team (which is most of the time), it's imported from Italy, and it makes all the difference. Novella, who designed the kitchen, put the pasta-making station under the restaurant's bay window overlooking Winnebago Street. From the sidewalk, passersby can watch Novella feed folded-over pasta into a Somerset roller machine, turning the floured dough into an impossibly thin sheet after five or six runs. He'll then trim the sides of the fabric-like dough before rolling it from either side and cutting it into ribbony strands. Depending on the cut, the pasta might turn into tagliatelle served with a beef and pork Bolognese sauce, or maybe a pappardelle noodle with a prosciutto white wine sauce.
No. 3: Two sommeliers can help pick a great wine to go with dinner.
A wine pairing can certainly help elevate a meal, but Bar Corallini's sommeliers take the stuffiness out of the act. Richie Layton, Bar Corallini's general manager, and Samantha Barczak, the front of house manager, are a charming pair who are into natural, organic and biodynamic wines. The two, who are married, have traveled the world and enjoy finding new and interesting wines during their journeys. Most of the selections on the wine list have one or multiple qualities they look for in a wine: it comes from a small family production and it's organic, sustainable or biodynamic, which means it was made on a vineyard that prioritizes soil fertility and keeps chemicals out of the winemaking process.
No. 4: Art & Sons designed the interior.
Without even stepping foot in the restaurant, you already know it's going to be gorgeous if Art & Sons had something to do with it. Your eyes go immediately to Corallini's art deco Italian- and Roman-influenced bar, featuring brushed gold and sea glass shelves holding bottles of Aperol and Campari, front and center. The details come into focus as you walk through the long, spacious space — tufted green leather bar stools sit atop eye-catching multicolored tiles around a curved bar; lush hanging plants stretch nearly the length of the restaurant; and arched walls allow you to see into the kitchen, featuring a mosaic tile-covered, wood-burning oven. The restaurant's interior masterpiece is a glowing choral-shaped neon sign hung on white-washed pumpkin block wall that's original to the building. (If you look closely enough, you'll find shells and coral pieces added between the blocks.) Arts & Sons co-owner and designer Scott Pauli also says the design team concentrated on lighting and what the space would look like at night, incorporating soft pink hues, conveniently coordinated with one of the bar's signature drinks.
No. 5: There are negronis on tap.
You know what Madison's forecasted 90-degree days call for this weekend? A negroni. A bittersweet, ice-cold negroni. The classic Italian cocktail is served on tap all the time at Bar Corallini, but right now the restaurant is serving multiple negronis as part of Negroni Week. The house negroni is made with State Line Distillery gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. A special rum negroni available until June 30 is made with Plantation pineapple rum, strawberry-infused Campari and Carpano Antica. Also available until June 30 is a mezcal negroni, a favorite of bar manager Robert Freeman. This negroni features Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Campari and thyme-infused Dolin Blanc. The mezcal cocktail also showcases a block of ice made by Beaker & Flask Beverage Co., owned by Madison's Mike McDonald. If negronis aren't for you, the sweet lemon negroni sorbetto might be — that's a special for Negroni Week, too. More reason to order a negroni cocktail or sorbetto ASAP by June 30: $1 from every negroni sale goes to No Kid Hungry. State Line Distillery is also contributing an extra $1 donation for every house negroni sale.
No. 6: Bar Corallini has a vegan menu.
An entire menu just for vegans! Chef Novella says he understands that many Italian dishes exclude some Madisonians, so he's come up with a few dishes tasty enough to appease any palate, vegan or not. The menu includes warm olives, fagioli al fiasco (a cannellini bean spread), an antipasto board featuring grilled eggplant and other vegetables, three salads and a truly jaw-dropping mafalda pasta dish. Seriously, the vegan tomato ricotta sauce and vegan Parmesan cheese could likely fool anyone into thinking it was a dairy-rich dish.
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