October 12, 2015 – Several months ago, I spoke to Giuseppe Panzuto about his passion project: opening Il Tegamino with his older brother Salvatore. They had owned and operated a wine bar in their hometown of Naples, Italy when they were just sixteen and twenty years old. Now, more than two decades later, in their new hometown of Carmel, their restaurant features Neopolitan comfort food using recipes inspired by their childhood.
“I’m very excited to have something that is all our own,” said Giuseppe, the former GM and partner in Cantinetta Luca. Salvatore has cooked locally at Cantinetta Luca, as well as at Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn and La Balena in Carmel.
The Panzuto brothers hosted a preview dinner ahead of their soft opening last Thursday. Tucked into the Courtyard of the Golden Bough, it was like being invited into their home for dinner. Their mother, Rita, collected cooking pots, including the classical Italian pot il tegame which is a short, flat-bottomed pot with two handles. Il tegamino is a smaller version of the pot and several of their dishes are served in the restaurant’s namesake vessel.
The tasting menu Salvatore shared included a little bit of everything, from their antipasti and insalate offerings to primi, secondi, and contorni plates and from the polpette bar to the desserts. There was so much food to try, I was grateful that Giuseppe warned us ahead of time to pace ourselves.
Served with thin slices of bread, we started off with Zucchine alla Scapece, a traditional summertime dish from Naples that makes use of a bounty of summer squash. Zucchini is fried, then marinated overnight. Il Tegamino’s version had some zing from the combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, mint, and chili flakes.
The antipasti, included a riff on eggplant parmesan made with zucchini instead. Salvatore presented a trio of frittura all’Italiana, serving arancini, which are risotto balls stuffed with cheese, meat, and peas; crocchette di patate, potato croquettes with mozzarella; and a fried dough that had been blended with sea lettuce. While our table was debating on a favorite, Giuseppe shared that he had collected the sea lettuce that morning. An avid free-diver, he plans to include daily specials that he has spearfished.
The primi and secondi plates were hearty, solid dishes, but we were all awaiting their much buzzed about polpette bar. Have you ever heard of a restaurant with a meatball bar? I hadn’t, but I anticipate an avid cult following for that reason alone. Everyone loves a good meatball!
Salvatore has six meatballs on the menu that should satisfy everyone from the omnivore to the vegetarian. He serves polpette de manzo, beef meatballs with pine nuts, raisins, garlic, bread, parsley, and parmesan cheese; polpette di maiale, pork meatballs with onions, bread, thyme, sage, and pecorino cheese; polpette di tonno, fresh tuna balls with capers, mint, potato, and caciocavallo cheese; polpette di granchio, crab meat balls with chives, bread, celery, and bell peppers; polpette di cavolo, a meatless ball formed from cauliflower, black olives, bread, and parmesan cheese; and polpette di funghi, made with Portobello and Porcini mushrooms, ricotta cheese, thyme, bread, and parmesan cheese. Three housemade sauces accompanied the meatballs and complemented all of the flavors. With the choice of meat, seafood, and vegetarian meatballs, there is definitely something for every palate.
Verging on the precipice between satiated and stuffed, two desserts were brought out and we simply couldn’t resist. They had prepared two tiramisù, one traditional and one that was new to me. When you see tiramisù on the menu, it’s usually tiramisù al caffè, made with espresso. Tiramisù al Limone, made with limoncello-soaked ladyfingers, was a delightful surprise.
The thing about having a great meal at a friend’s house: you have to politely wait for a repeat invitation. At Il Tegamino, you feel as if you’re eating in a friend’s kitchen, but you don’t have to wait to return. Just be sure to make a reservation because they only have 24 seats inside.
By next week, when the soft opening phase is finished, Il Tegamino will open up 28 more dining spots in the lovely outdoor patio at the Court of the Golden Bough. For the time being they are only open for dinner, but the brothers plan to add lunch service by the beginning of next year.