NEW YORK — Peanut butter and jelly. Steak and potatoes. Some food pairings are so tried and true they seem like second nature. But the American Southwest and Tuscany are not such obvious culinary bedmates…unless you’re Cesare Casella of Beppe fame, and you’ve just opened a restaurant in the West Village.
Named for the wild, mountainous Southwestern region of Tuscany from which Casella drew inspiration, Maremma is a lively, light-filled space, all color-saturated walls and brightly striped linens. Casella, who is the chef and owner, grew up two hours from its namesake locale and made frequent trips to its beautiful beaches. And after visiting the American Southwest several years ago, the jump to “spaghetti western” fusion food seemed natural. That said, Casella is still staying loyal to his roots: He has a book, “True Tuscan,” (Harper Collins) coming out this fall.
“I traveled to Texas and saw the ways of the cowboys, and I discovered there were a lot of similarities between the Tuscan cowboy, which they call ‘buttero,’ and the American cowboy,” he explains, settling into one of his booths wearing a red floral shirt accessorized with a few sprigs of rosemary. “Now, I’m taking the cooking from Maremma, but upgrading it and putting more flavors and more ingredients from the Southwest. This is Tuscan food with one more gear up.”
The seasonal menu is divided between small and big plates, replete with kitschy monikers including “Earn-Your-Spurs” (short ribs with grits), “Pony Express” (spaghetti with tomatoes, tuna, mushrooms and pancetta) and “Granelli” (Rocky Mountain oysters with ranch dressing — that’s bull balls in layman terms). As for the equally thematic decor, photographs of the butteri and maremmano horses line the walls while a dining area on the second floor mezzanine has iron lantern-strewn skylights. Mounted longhorns from Texas, planters of cacti and rosemary and a “bean bar” serving antipasto made from Casella’s Italian heirloom legumes company, Republic of Beans, complete the hybrid picture.
Those expecting a nod to the cinematic violence that characterized spaghetti westerns should look elsewhere: This is a truly PG-rated endeavor.
“I was more into the Italian spaghetti western. They are comedies,” says Casella. “There were two actors called Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill and I saw all their movies, but it was comedy. It was for family.”