A menu aimed at creating connections between past and present, striving for “enjoyment even in pushing the limits”. That never makes the dish seem like a mere exercise in style: Davide Di Fabio unites Abruzzo and Romagna, with a constant focus on art and "free creativity."
When opposite worlds and different visions find common ground, something unique and extraordinary is born, whose authenticity, so complex yet so understandable, is in no way replicable. It all began on June 21, 2021, when Stefano Bizzarri and Allegra Tirotti Romanoff decided to embark on a project together by starting the renovation of this former 1950s dance pizzeria, once run by Mrs. Gioconda herself, to turn it into a place that spoke of love, first and foremost their own, of course, but also their love for this land, where Stefano used to come with his parents even before he was born, for its wonderful sunsets, for its cuisine, for design and creativity, and for beauty in its countless forms.
Stefano graduated in Economics from Bocconi University, traveled extensively, and worked in various restaurants while nurturing his passions for surfing and botany: he is the practical and managerial part of the project. Allegra graduated from the Marangoni Institute of Fashion, Art, and Design, worked at Etro as a fashion designer for four years, and had a passion for good food: she is the creative and artistic part of the restaurant, taking care of its style and design. From the union of two such different souls, this place was born, capable of transmitting both of them, turning their differences into an immeasurable wealth.
Located in an area that has always been a hub for music and entertainment, home to Italy's most famous nightclubs of the 1970s and the most illustrious Italian singers, the restaurant stands on a hill overlooking the entire Riviera Romagnola, in a natural park surrounded by the greenery of Mount San Bartolo, right on the border with the Marche region: "We are the first or last village in the Marche," says Davide Di Fabio, the restaurant's chef. The extensive renovation, however, preserved the jukebox from the era and maintained the lightness that Mrs. Gioconda's name carried with it, in contrast to the rigidity required by an approach focused on sustainability, certified as Leed Gold, one of the most important protocols worldwide.
The building is heated following geothermal principles, which also allow for cooling of the refrigeration cells, which in turn release waste heat directly into the underfloor heating, creating a virtuous system. Not far from the restaurant, also in the spirit of sustainability, a vegetable garden has been created from which the vegetables used in the kitchen come. Finally, from a former colonial house, one of the first in Gabicce Monte, the "Hidden Rooms" were created, three very beautiful, elegant rooms with all the comforts, each with its own peculiarity: from marble to exposed ancient walls, from the outdoor garden where you can have breakfast or sunbathe, to the many precious objects used as furnishings that can also be purchased, such as Ginori porcelain, Gucci hangers, or paintings by well-known artists.
Agreeing on such a project was not difficult, considering that Stefano had already worked in restaurants, especially in Australia and Brazil, and Allegra was already passionate about good food and hospitality. What was missing was someone to lead the kitchen, but as they say, coincidences in life are everything. Stefano met Davide Di Fabio during a short ride at Osteria Francescana, where they had the opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions related to the restaurant industry, but it was Massimo Bottura who put the final piece of the puzzle, as soon as he learned that Davide wanted to approach his partner of Marchigian origin: "I'll put my son in your hands," he told Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci and Stefano's father.
So Davide Di Fabio took over the reins of the kitchen at Dalla Gioconda, now a Michelin star and green star for sustainability: born in 1985, raised in Abruzzo, and a great enthusiast of art and music, he arrived at Francescana in 2005 and stayed for 16 years, completing his entire training there: "I immediately fell in love with Massimo's philosophy and his way of thinking; there was something that deeply connected us," says Davide. The impact with the new restaurant, which was not yet completed, was dazzling.
Spread over two floors, the restaurant features an art gallery at the entrance and a small cinema showing Italian comedies near the bathrooms. It accommodates an average of 50 people per evening, with peaks of 70 on particularly busy days. It is elegantly furnished with great attention to precious objects and elements, especially wood, brass, and ceramic tables, which are enhanced by a minimal mise en place, also a sustainable choice aimed at limiting the use of water and detergents for tablecloths, as well as the decision not to use plastic inside the restaurant, making it the first plastic-free certified restaurant in Italy. However, sustainability is not only related to the environment but also to human capital; in fact, no more than 8 services per week are planned: "We care a lot about our associates and their valued word," is written at the bottom of the menu, and as if that weren't enough: "A supplement equal to 5% of the bill will be divided between the dining room and the kitchen for service." Is this why the long-standing problem of a shortage of qualified personnel doesn't affect them here? Likely so: "We constantly receive job requests, and we manage to have a stable team for the winter and hire a few more resources for the summer season, without any hassle," confesses the chef.
However, how do you create an identity in the kitchen in a new territory after such a long period spent as Bottura's alter ego? "To be honest I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it. The only possibility was to go back in time by twenty years, to start over from my past," says Davide Di Fabio himself. Today, his menu aims to create a connection between past and present, a past made up of recipes and gestures passed down from generation to generation that should not be changed but reinterpreted in light of one's own experiences and various influences, without betraying the taste and always seeking balance, that “enjoyment even in pushing the limits” that never makes a dish seem like a mere exercise in style: "I like to recreate by starting from deconstructing, from recovering the taste matrix of some memory dishes and then reconstructing them not as they were originally but making something new out of them," reads the chef's kitchen manifesto.
The knowledge of one's roots and Italian taste, therefore, are essential aspects of an offer focused on Abruzzo and Romagna, but with a constant focus on art and "free creativity," the unique and true common thread of a complex and articulated series of dishes: "It is necessary to explore many different paths because almost everything has already been said, so the more paths you travel, the more possibilities you have to evolve. In a nutshell, to borrow from Warhol, it's better to have 100 paintings for 1 euro than 1 painting for 100 euros," are the enlightening words of the chef that overturn any preconceived idea or framework. Even the restaurant's menu is not among the most common, presented in the form of a vinyl record with a shiny cover and a QR code to discover the dishes on the menu and various tastings, such as "Hit Parade," historical dishes, from 7 courses for 110 euros to 10 courses for 140 euros, or "New Releases," new proposals in continuous evolution, also with 7 or 10 courses at the same prices, in addition to a vegetarian tasting menu with 7 dishes for 110 euros and a customizable 10-course menu for 160 euros, exclusively reserved for those who book the "golden table," the one with the best view of the bay of Gabicce.
A cuisine in constant evolution, therefore, free from constraints and limitations, guided by creativity and taste, but with a light touch and powerful expressiveness, starting with the welcome aperitif, which includes a tribute to Romagna, a classic of the chef, the saraghina with squacquerone cheese and caviar, halfway between a piadina and a blini. The starters begin by exploring sweet and sour notes, with the "Mazzancolla in rosa," a reinterpretation of the shrimp cocktail from the 1980s, where the pink sauce is replaced by a beetroot and shallot mayonnaise, with squid ink and saffron, a triumph of bright colors reminiscent of pop art. The "Battuta di marchigiana e gamberi rosa con brodo di tartufo e agrumi" (Marchigiana beef tartare, pink prawns with truffle and citrus broth) is brilliant, where the pink prawn is used to recreate Japanese Wagyu, recalling its marbling and fatty parts, while the truffle and citrus broth adds sweet and sour notes typical of Asian cuisine, perfectly complemented by the pairing with Tergeno from Fattoria Zerbina, a late-harvest Albana di Romagna.
The exploration of bitterness, "somewhat lost by new generations," as the chef puts it, is interesting with the "Cappelletti di olive amare, burro all'arancio e ricci di mare," tiny pastry envelopes "to be perceived differently than a pasta course," he continues, enclosing a pasta made from salted marinated olives with orange, sea urchins to add saltiness, and orange butter to provide the necessary sweetness to bring everything together under the common denominator of balance and taste, as previously mentioned, paired very well with a bitter-based drink, seawater, and citrus.
With the "Triglia, intingolo di quaglia beccafico," it is evident that for the chef, there is no clear distinction between meat and fish, nor between sweet and savory: the red mullet is marinated in seawater, flambéed, and placed on bread soaked in aged red wine vinegar with carrot chips on top; in the center, a mix of sauces, including fennel from the herb garden located below the restaurant, late harvest mandarin, and quail à la beccafico. The "Riso tiepido con seppia e limone" It serves as a symbol of the pleasurable radicalization mentioned earlier, in this case, related to acidity and bitterness: the rice is cooked in fermented and roasted lemon broth, the raw cuttlefish serves only to add chewiness to the rice without any desire for limelight, while the pairing with Riesling Aphoteke Kabinett 2021 from Angsar Clusserath is both complementary and functional.
The "Pescato del giorno con salsa di albicocche acerbe e acetosella" is represented by perfectly cooked sea bass with butter, clam water, and Greek basil, where the unripe apricots represent the idea of seasonal diversification, which is very dear to the Abruzzese chef: "We should extend the life of ingredients, just think of tomatoes; we are used to eating tomato sauce all year round, not just in summer, thanks to preserves. We should use the same method for everything. Unripe fruit, for example, can be used in various ways, from preparing sauces in the kitchen to mixology, creating new flavors and unique combinations. I think sustainability is also the scientific dissemination of one's knowledge, something that should be shared, otherwise it doesn't make sense."
The "Saltimbocca di spigola e ricciola con lattuga di mare e salvia" is entertaining but takes a back seat to what is a true manifesto of Abruzzese cuisine, namely the "Zuppiera di pasta e pesci dell'adriatico," a dish halfway between fish stew and integrity: at its base are seven types of raw fish and crustaceans, with seven types of sauces (garlic, tomato, mantis shrimp, squid, mussels, clams, parsley) on which seven different pasta shapes are placed, cooked with fish broth and legume puree, creating a dish with various textures and temperatures, delicious and well-executed. Davide Di Fabio's work on the pasta dishes is quite diverse, evident in both the "Paccheri al sugo??" (which plays with taste memory by offering a dish that recalls fresh tomatoes but using various types of plums instead, with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano) and in a signature dish achieved by mistake thanks to a spaghetti left in boiling water, the "Spaghetto scotto alla marinara" (where the pasta takes on the consistency of noodles, regenerated and tossed in a sauce of tomatoes, shrimp, anchovies, and parsley). However, the true masterpiece is the "Tagliolini freddi con porcini e caviale," homemade straw and hay pasta, cooked, cooled in ice water, and dried, dressed with pine nut oil, seaweed oil, dried porcini oil, and caviar, an exceptional symphony of flavors.
The main courses are very diverse, starting with the "Animella alla brace, piadina come un pane naan, panna acida," where the cooking of the sweetbread is done by the book, continuously lacquered with a honey and sweet pepper glaze that intensifies the smoky aroma, giving it a rich and intense flavor, balanced by the sour cream and further enhanced by the naan bread. In a completely different direction, there is the "Duetto di piccione e ventresca di tonno," the most surprising dish of the journey, in which the chef unleashes his artistic side, as mentioned earlier: "I didn't want to offer the usual pigeon, and I worked a lot on layering flavors, conceiving it like a nigiri," he explains. The pigeon is seared on the grill, and the various layers are made up of cod roe, duck liver, black truffle, raspberry puff pastry, and wasabi, essential to balance a dish with so many elements capable of interacting with each other and expressing themselves in a harmonious way, accompanied by hazelnut oil spinach.
The experience ends fittingly with both more straightforward and indulgent desserts, such as "la Gioconda," a layering of 70% dark Criollo cocoa from Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador, and a disc of Cantiano sour cherries, or more complex ones, like the "Neola alla Suzette," a typically Abruzzese dish, revisited with the aim of transcending the sweet-savory divide, thanks to the caramelized Grand Marnier duck sauce, which accompanies orange and custard cream, extending its flavor, providing pleasantness and intensity without altering the sweet component; the pairings with Sauternes Chateau Simon Barsac and Barolo Chinato from Cappellano are well chosen, respectively.
To accompany such an elaborate journey, there is a wine cellar that stands out, first of all for its location, in a secret space located below the restaurant, among the historic walls of the Gabicce Castle, and then for its size and quality, with around 1300 labels, from the most well-known and renowned to those from small artisanal producers. There is ample space for French sparkling wines, with significant vintage depth and an interesting selection of large formats, also for Italian sparkling wines. The region is well represented with significant tributes to the most important Marche wineries, without forgetting the rest of Italy, the great reds of Piedmont, Tuscany, and Bordeaux, the great whites of Moselle and Burgundy, and lesser-known labels from Spain, Slovenia, and Lebanon, also offered by the glass and described with empathy and professionalism by sommelier Nicholas Bratti.
Completing a memorable experience in terms of form and substance is a service team led by Allegra Tirotti Romanoff, which moves very well, expressing grace, professionalism, and a portion of informality that goes well with the project and the setting, recalling the warmth, positivity, and joie de vivre that are proverbial among the inhabitants of these areas and enriched by the calm and serenity of a chef like Davide Di Fabio, who also knows how to be precise and meticulous, leaving nothing to chance: "I know exactly where I will be in 5 years and where this journey will lead me; I just need to focus on the individual steps to get there, but I am calm."
Via dell'Orizzonte, 2, 61011 Gabicce Monte PU
Telefono: 0541 962295