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.