In Italy, antipasti are the first thing to hit the table, a feast before the feast to prepare you for the courses to follow. Here are some of your best bets in Dallas.
The glorious retro bar and marble tabletops at this Design District restaurant are ideal surfaces across which to slide whipped house-made ricotta and grilled sourdough. Yellowfin tuna crudo appears with seasonal variations: fresh favas, pickled green strawberries, and Marcona almonds; or olives, piquillo peppers, oranges, and tomato oil. A fritto misto of shrimp and calamari is dressed with Calabrian chile and lemon aioli.
Located in The Joule hotel, the vibe here is la dolce vita. Snack on marinated olives seasoned with fennel pollen or fried Castelvetrano olives stuffed with Calabrian chile sausage. Arancini—fried risotto balls—come oozing with taleggio, studded with porcini and lapped in pesto. Wagyu beef carpaccio is topped with fried capers and Parmesan. The shaved cauliflower salad with pistachios, golden raisins, and lemon is a riot of color.
This is Julian Barsotti’s love letter to Rome, so you’ll find a variation on supplì, the fried Roman snack, made with spaghetti and served with pesto Genovese. Seasonal salads may include cantaloupe, ricotta, American prosciutto, and bitter honey; or plum, ricotta salata, and escarole. Don’t miss the menu’s offal cut (the Roman “quinto quarto”): beef tongue tonnato with giardiniera, or smoked beef tongue with potato and olive tapenade.
Director of Culinary Operations for Headington Co., who oversees menu development for Americano and Sassetta.
What were the visions for the antipasti at Americano and Sassetta? With Americano, we wanted to embrace certain classic Italian-American dishes: a fresh take on recognizable classics. At Sassetta, we leaned more California-Italian, lots of vegetables and salads, rounded out with staples like fritto misto and salumi.
Was anything a priority—strong, powerful flavors, or vibrant colors? Since most of the dishes are small, they should pack a punch. [It’s] a nod to the Cicchetti, [Venetian] bar snacks [a bit like the equivalent of Spanish tapas] that you would find in an Italian enoteca, and [to] the tradition of aperitivo. Italians rarely drink alcohol without food, so your Aperol spritz or negroni before dinner would be accompanied by some small bites like olives or nuts. The best part is that it gives you the opportunity to taste several dishes. They need to be shareable and cover a broad range of flavors and textures.
Any challenges to creating antipasti? They’re actually our favorite dishes to create. It’s much more interesting than, say, your typical protein/starch/vegetable/sauce entrée, because there’s not a need to check all of those boxes.
How explicitly are seasonal ingredients part of the thought process as you play with the Italian tradition of antipasti at both restaurants? In the Italian tradition, local and seasonal is the rule, not the exception. We aren’t as strict, but we try to stay as seasonal as we can.
Were there any classics that, as a team, you talked about absolutely having to recreate (the dream antipasti) or wanting at all costs to avoid? We learned the hard way that Dallas doesn’t share Italy’s love of anchovies (though we still sneak them in a few dishes). For me, the salumi plate at Sassetta is the dream antipasto. All of our salumi is made at [Headington Co’s downtown] Commissary from local pigs and aged in our custom cellar for up to two years. We serve it with sourdough bread made from flour milled in Barton Springs (also from Commissary) and mozzarella that we make every morning.
What have been your best sellers? At both restaurants the meatballs are the top selling antipasto.