“This is the last chance of my life and I want to do this right,” says chef Rino Brigliadori Sr. above the din of the kitchen in his new restaurant, Positano. “I am back among all my old customers, and I want to make them happy.”
Many of you will remember the affable, silver-haired tower of Pisa from Modo Mio, the “Cucina Rustica Italiana” spot he founded in 1997 that quickly developed a loyal following. Early success must have gone to his head. In 2001, Brigliadori sold Modo Mio and followed the twinkling Tollway lights to the alleged land of new opportunity: Plano. He opened Rino’s, a swankier spot with a huge exhibition kitchen that created wonderful thin-crusted pizzas along with Brigliadori’s regular Italian specialties.
Apparently, his regular customers feared the drive north. After only 18 months, Rino’s closed in September 2004.
However, a bad location can’t keep a good chef down, so Brigliadori is back in the old ’hood.
In fact, Positano rescued the old Mediterraneo location at Frankford and Preston. It was a beauty of a space before a Japanese restaurant moved in for a minute and lacquered the interior black. Thankfully, Brigliadori and company have restored the building to its original Mediterranean roots. Rich golden tones wash the walls in warmth. Velvet curtains open and close to fit the mood and divide the main dining room. A floor-to-ceiling, black-and-white aerial photograph of the hillside village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast covers one wall and makes your mouth water for seafood.
Specifically, you’ll long for the fruits de mare that spring from the extra salty Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean fish really doesn’t need more than a dab of olive oil, a squirt of lemon, and a pinch of salt—the simpler the better.
Calamari at Positano is prepared like the real deal. This is no sissy version in which the sweet meat of the poor cephalopod is battered and fried before a deep dunk in ketchup renders its taste obscure. Instead, chef Brigliadori presents calamari in all of its naked glory: the body of the squid, stuffed with scallops, shrimp, and sea bass, is gently kissed by the grill and sliced into 12, three-quarter-inch medallions arranged in an oval pattern surrounding a half lemon. The dish is visually simple, elegant, and tasty. But with an extra pinch of fresh sea salt, we’d have crawled the Appian Way for another taste.
What did blow us away, however, were the salads. We’d go back to Positano just for the mound of lightly steamed julienned beets tossed with bold Gorgonzola crumbles and walnut pieces in a subtle white balsamic vinaigrette. Or we’d return for the slivered baby artichokes hidden beneath a light veil of olive oil and lemon surrounded by thick triangles of fresh Parmigiano.
And we couldn’t say which was better: more than two dozen sautéed mussels or the rich white wine, garlic, and shallot broth that begged to be sopped up with the crusty house bread.
Between the salads and the best tiramisu around, we savored duck ravioli, lobster ravioli, and a lovely sliced sirloin served medium-rare, topped with fresh arugula and shaved Parmigiano. A grilled pork loin in a bland sauce of dried cherries and rosemary (is that possible?) was the only dish that failed.
On one visit, service bordered on disastrous. Our waiter was no help on the wine list, and another waiter continually interrupted him (“Table two is ready for their check.”) as he attempted to fill us in on the evening’s specials. On our return, the waiter could not have been more pleasant or more informed, dinner went without a hitch, and we learned a thing or two about Italian wine in the process.
While son Rino Jr. runs the front of the house, Rino Sr. insists on remaining behind the line, finishing every dish. And Brigliadori fans will be happy to find his signature desserts, like fresh peach ice cream served in a whole frozen peach and the aforementioned tiramisu, with ladyfingers soaked in rum nesting in thick mascarpone. 18111 Preston Rd. 972-407-9180. $$-$$$.