LUPO Providenciales (Provo), Turks & Caicos IslandsRestaurant Reviewed January / February 2014
Lupo’s pan-seared Red Snapper fish special
Lupo owner Mark Dillon is absolutely passionate about Italian cuisine. His passion is so palpable and genuine, he put his mortadella where his mouth is and opened Lupo Ristorante Italiano in the Regent Village in Grace Bay. In fact, after spending an evening with Mark, I’d venture so far as to say that it’s not blood coursing through his veins, but Bolognese sauce.
Nonna’s Meatballs are a 'must-try' at Lupo
Mark is affable, accessible and unquestionably learned in his knowledge and the craft of Italian food. The consummate host, he maintains, “I saw a need for an Italian restaurant here on island that had this kind of price range, had this kind of atmosphere, was a little bit more accessible and could be visited a little more frequently without emptying your pockets.”
With a warmth and charm reminiscent of sidewalk trattorias in Italy, but with a stylish and cosmopolitan twist, Lupo sets the perfect mood. Dine al fresco on the ‘terrace’ beneath strings of lights that whimsically cascade overhead; or take in the indoor vibe amidst the audible hum of relaxed and contented diners basking in the simple Italian pleasures – the joy of food, wine and conversation.
Gorgonzola, pear and smoked ham pizza
The wine list features selections from all the key wine regions with an anticipated emphasis on Italian wines, many served by the glass. We were categorically Italian this evening and Mark offered his suggestions accordingly.
First, a 2009 Masi Campofiorin was full of luscious fruit with hints of leather, vanilla and pronounced cinnamon. “I love it!” was the general consensus. We moved on up to a more full-bodied Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico – silky-smooth and intensely aromatic with huge red berries, vanilla and chocolate. This is a fabulous go-to Chianti that pairs well with virtually any Italian dish, even pizza.
Lattuga Romana, grilled romaine salad at Lupo
From the ‘antipasti’ menu we indulged in Arancine – and the operative word here is ‘indulged’. A risotto ‘ball’ was stuffed with cheese, breaded, then fried and served atop a dollop of arugula pesto. Cutting into the crispy arancine produced a gush of melted cheese that oozed onto the plate and became ‘one’ with the creamy risotto and the zesty pesto.
Once you experience the Rosemary and Garlic Polenta Fries, you will never look at a potato in the guise of a French fry again. Trust me on this one. Prepared polenta is cut into ‘sticks’ and then fried, yielding a golden, crispy exterior that gives way to a rich and creamy core. Plunged into a velvety aioli, this dish was an act of pure genius and absolute decadence.
The Lattuga Romana is a grilled romaine salad. Grilled lettuce? Just a flicker or two atop a hot grill produces a delicate wilt and an incredible char with fabulous smoky flavours. Plenty of crispy croutons, salty capers, delectable Italian bacon and shards of Parmesan fused flawlessly with the rich, creamy dressing, redolent with garlic. Lupo adds anchovy oil to the dressing instead of whole anchovies to the salad, what Mark explains is “A subtlety … we don’t smother it”.
Traditional Lasagna with Ricotta is surprisingly light
The meatball is an Italian classic, and if it’s Nonna’s recipe, you know it’s a recipe that has been passed down through generations, steeped in history and created with love. These were absolutely moist and fresh with a distinctive and fresh ‘herbaceous’ taste that married perfectly with the garlic. Of this dish, smothered in tomato sauce and topped with more shards of Parmesan I overheard “You can lick the plate if you want.” To which my favourite dining companion replied, “If I was at home, I would.”
When my husband discovered Orecchiette pasta on the menu there was no further discussion. It’s a dish that started out as a special and became a big hit. Mark opted for a lighter Alfredo sauce, to “pull the flavour out of the Portobello mushroom.” Together with the savory Italian sausage, the mushrooms added even more of a ‘meaty’ texture while peas offered a fresh crunch. With shards of Parmesan already festooning this fabulous feast, an additional grinding of fresh Parmesan was presented at the table. Offering my husband the Parmesan grinder – big mistake!
Lupo’s Italian sausage and Portobello Orecchiette
Also not open to negotiation was the allocation and distribution of lasagna. A Lupo regular, my fellow diner was already a die-hard fan of this dish. Substantial layers of pasta were generously stuffed with ricotta and smothered inside and out with a spectacular Bolognese sauce. We all agreed it was certainly one of the most ‘attractive’ slabs of lasagna, a marvel of culinary architecture and a patriotic homage to Italy with the red sauce, green herbs and white ricotta. “This is beautiful” he simply said. “I’m proud of it” Mark confessed.
Lighter than its potato gnocchi counterpart, my tender and delicate homemade Ricotta Gnocchi was a match made in Italian heaven. The rich, creamy and dreamy Gorgonzola sauce was surprisingly light tasting with lemon zest that added a great layer of flavour and freshness. Unexpected yet pleasurable morsels of radicchio added a hint of bitterness and a palatable divergence.
Gorgonzola also adds a phenomenal dimension to pizza. It melts and becomes a creamy sauce, topped with mouth-watering Speck and super-sweet thin slices of caramelised pears, this was the perfect contrast of salty and sweet.
Dine indoors or outside at Lupo in the Regent Village
This evening’s Red Snapper Special drew an instantaneous and unrestrained “LOVE the fish.” Pan seared in a “very, very hot pan – white wine to give it moistness and flavour and crisps it at the same time; olive oil, salt and pepper, done.” Mark explained. Served on a bed of sautéed arugula, shaved fennel and cherry tomatoes, this dish is rumoured to become a permanent fixture on the menu.
Another special that quickly became a hit was Lupo’s Italian Hamburger. While we can all agree that the hamburger has no Italian roots or history, this hamburger is destined to become legendary – at least in these parts. The burger is stuffed with Provolone cheese, and then topped with sweet red peppers, herb infused aioli and old-fashioned mustard – and it’s served with those scandalous polenta fries.
Speaking of scandalous … no Italian feast is complete without ‘dolci’. Delight in Panna Cotta, a Tuscan flan with a sweet balsamic reduction and mint, Tiramisu, an Italian classic, Ice Cream with a shot of espresso or Pizza Alla Nutella.
Desserts include Panna Cotta and Tiramisu
Fiercely proud of Lupo and his staff, Mark was quick to pay tribute to Maximilien “Max” Corsillo, who was brought in at a consultancy level at the time of Lupo’s beginnings and who helped create the menu. “Max was my go-to guy for authentic Italian” he acknowledges.
Bubbly and full of life, Chef Nadjet Hamou simply beamed with enthusiasm and pride for her culinary talents and her excitement to be ‘here’. “I’m realising my dream!” she confessed. Her culinary roots are best described as a Mediterranean fusion … a mix of all this knowledge, “That’s what I’m giving to you” she admits.
Lupo also has a new arrival from Roma helping in both the front and back of house, “Continuing our tradition of delivering the best of Italy,” Mark revealed.
“We want to keep everything as fresh as possible. It’s a lot more labour-intensive to make smaller portions,” Mark recognises, but to him, freshness is key. Pastas are handmade with the exception of orecchiette and penne and apart from the imported cured meats and cheeses Lupo accesses everything else here.
To sum it up, a dear friend and frequent visitor to Provo was eager to regale me with his own Lupo dining experience and express his accolades to Mark, who he insists was “very friendly and knowledgeable”. His remarks were precise and unambiguous. “Now, I know this stuff. I’m a paesano. It was fabulous. I will be back!”
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