Golden Dish Review

Golden Dish Review

"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.

Eat Maine Review

Eat Maine Review

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.

Dine Out Maine Review

Dine Out Maine Review

Three months ago, if you had asked me to predict at which restaurant I would eat jaw-achingly sweet blackberries – plump as a toddler’s thumb and picked that morning by our server as she walked through a South Portland park – I would never have guessed Solo Italiano. Vinland, sure. Maybe even Fore Street or Local Sprouts Café, but not a glass-and-exposed-brick Commercial Street venture, right in the swirling center of Portland’s tourist vortex.

If you’ve been to the Old Port recently, you might recognize the location as the high-profile corner spot occupied until March by owner Angelo Ciocca’s previous restaurant, Ebb & Flow, which was open for just over a year and didn’t develop a clear identity. Now, with a restyled interior that tempers all the metal and glass with purples and deep blues, it feels like a space that has come to celebrate its proximity to the water.

Golden Dish Review

Golden Dish Review

After two visits—once with a group of friends and a dinner at the bar a few nights later—what impressed me most was the elegance and simplicity of Laboa’s cooking.  The food was not a slam dunk of garlic, oregano, red sauce and melted cheese but rather a total lightness of being in every exciting dish.