Zest’s Winter 2019 issue features a wonderful expose on our Chef-owner Paolo Laboa and his soulful attention to delicious, yet intentionally simple, Northern Italian cooking. In the interview, he discusses the key of braising your food (like octopus), expanding your horizons (emphasis on Stock Fish) and, of course, that award-winning basil pesto.
Photo credit: Benjamin Clay
Jim Keithley of Channel 8 learns about a Ligurian favorite, Corzetti, and the nuanced steps to making the style of Pasta from Paolo himself. You can watch the full video here, but you can also join one of our pasta-making classes that are featured in the shop on our site. We run them January through June, once per month on the final Tuesday.
Recently, Meredith Goad, of the Portland Press Herald, stopped in to learn more about Paolo's secret pesto ways, uncover its personal history for him and even make some with him! Read the full article here, and even try to make some for yourself with its recipe! Paolo is always open to sharing his culinary ways because he wants everyone to be a part of spreading the appreciation for beautifully clean food that sings.
This article was written by Mindy Fox for La Cucina Italiana while Paolo was still working at Farina in San Francisco. Since then Mindy has become a close friend and Maine resident. We are honored to continue such a relationship and bring Paolo's soulful expression to light anew in Portland, where he has found a new home. Stay tuned for the coming article in the Press Herald about the "pesto king in our midst." Also, give the pesto a shot! It is a humbling, but rewarding, experience.
You would be hard-pressed to come into Solo at any point throughout the year and not find mushrooms somewhere on our menu. One of the driving forces behind the diversity of our fungal offerings (not to mention varieties of seaweed and wild berries) is Northspore, based here in Maine. This special report gets behind the scenes at Solo with Paolo, WCSH Channel 6, and details the magic of cultivating mushrooms in Maine. (Fun fact: anyone can do it!)
A brief interview with Paolo and WCSH Channel 6 discusses the virtues of properly-seasoned cuisine, trust and resisting the antiquated behavioral twitch to automatically add salt and other spices to a plate presented, with care, for you. Perhaps tossing salt over your shoulder could be more than a superstition! (Also, Paolo's alfredo comment is priceless.)
Paolo visits Danny Bowien to spark memories working together at Farina in San Francisco and rehash their trip to Genoa to win the World Pesto Championship in 2008. (Paolo cameos around minute 8!)
"Is it all about the basil?
Solo Italiano chef Paolo Laboa’s name has become synonymous with pesto ever since he and his sous-chef, Danny Bowien, won the World Pesto Championship in 2008. They took Laboa’s mother’s recipe to Genoa for the competition and brought their first-place win back to San Francisco, where they worked at the time. Now mandilli di seta al vero pesto Genovese is the most popular dish at Solo Italiano: silky “handkerchief ” pasta with Laboa’s ethereal blend of sweet Genovese basil, Mediterranean pine nuts, Pecorino Sardo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, and olive oil from Liguria. Its bright green color and herbaceous aroma hint at the complex flavor, making it a must-try. But Laboa’s talent extends far beyond this signature dish."
The mission: Create a ristorante raffinato in a former waterfront warehouse. Check.
"Sliding into Solo Italiano early on a weeknight, we’re lucky to secure a table amid the bustle. Delicious portents–diners obviously adore this place! The jovial atmosphere makes the vast room feel less cavernous and more intimate, helped by the presence of the attractive new raw bar that juts into the dining area."
"One of the most exciting restaurants in Portland"
Solo Italiano’s co-owner and chef, Paolo Laboa (along with star Portland fish purveyor Angelo Ciocca), who hails from Genoa and has cooked on both coasts in America for over 10 years, is firmly in command of his kitchen, creating Italian fare–mostly locally sourced–that is literally an unleashing of culinary finery. And after my two recent dinners last week I was left with this impression: Solo Italiano has the qualities of style and cuisine like the white-clothed dining citadels in Rome, where haute Italian fare is at its finest.
The big corner space on Commercial Street has seen many restaurants come and go over the past several years, but it’s never seen anything like Paolo Laboa. “Paolo is the real deal” is the refrain I hear from several people during my visit to Solo Italiano.
Laboa is from Genoa, on the Ligurian coast of Italy. As a child, he preferred spending time in the kitchen with his mother and nonna, rather than playing outside, where his father thought he should be. It was in this kitchen that Laboa first learned to make pesto, the dish he has become most famous for. When he presents us with a plate of silky pasta “handkerchiefs” swathed in the green sauce, the herbaceous aroma of basil greets us first. No single ingredient stands out as it might in a less refined rendition; rather it’s the blending of sweet Genovese basil (Laboa says local Olivia Garden’s basil is the most like it), Mediterranean pine nuts, Pecorino Sardo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, and olive oil from Liguria. Mixing the pesto with a bit of the starchy pasta cooking water emulsifies it into an exquisitely creamy sauce for the handmade pasta. It’s an ambrosial combination, and Laboa’s signature dish.