Authentic Italian Hospitality in the heart of Hamilton
Claudio’s Restaurante | Hamilton, Ontario
This article also appears on TripAdvisor and Urbanicity.
I always enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s travel stories with his unique and slightly cynical take on a world he does not particularly relish except when he encounters authenticity in food and people. In his series “No reservations” on Rome, the show begins with a black and white take of Tony sitting at a patio in old Rome, oozing with self deprecating humor. What could not be missed by those who could easily relate to the message, is that , growing up in the 50s and 60s, Rome occupied a special place in the heart and minds for those who loved movies.
Bourdain referred to the great Italian moviemakers in the post second world war period, they told authentic , sad and difficult stories of real people doing what they could to survive….hence the name of the genre “NeoRealism”…actors were mostly non professioinal adding to the grittiness of it all…we are talking about great directors such as Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Antonioni and many others. Artists who led this artistic movement, were supported by the best and largest studio outside Hollywood: “Cinecitta” ( by the way Riddley Scott’s Gladiator was mostly filmed there !!!).
Rome was called the eternal city because people throughout history, thought that no matter what would happen to the entire world Rome would always endure … now you would ask what does have this to do with a fine dining restaurant in our ambitious City… Everything friends… everything… Claudio Andreis is a true Roman in fact and at heart and with his wife Kristine they decided that this is the perfect place where they wanted to share a culture of hospitality as ancient as Rome (hospitium is a concept of hospitality which started in ancient Greece and continued in ancient Rome).
Let’s set the stage: at the corner of Jackson and Catherine Streets in Hamilton, stands an elegant free standing building housing this fine Roman Ristorante.
The place was started 6 years ago by Claudio and his wife Kristine. From day one it was a labour of love and authentic dedication.The partnership was structured with a clear division of labour for the couple. One would run the kitchen , Kristine,and the other the front of the house. , and you guessed it, Claudio.
The dining room is not large but gives a sense of quiet elegance and a sense of place , let people not only enjoy great food in a classic décor but also remember the occasion that brought them here, a christening, a confirmation, a celebration of sorts.
From the start of this venture, the physical smallness of the kitchen was no obstacle for enterprising Kristine. She would produce a great variety of dishes from the simplest pasta to the most complex dishes. Her preparation is always very precise and the execution truly professional. You may ask any of the regulars who keep coming back for that marinara sauce, succulent osso bocco or lamb shanks slow cooked to perfection.
What other dishes one could expect in this place? Rabbit with pappardelle, not common in these parts but a delicacy in old Italy……steak , caprese salad with authentic mozarella di bufala……Then winter brings its range of soups such the Tuscan beans soup, so rich and tasty it could be considered a main course, value galore.
The osso bucco is a very large and generous serving veal in-bone with a rich demi glazed sauce and a delightful bone marrow for those who can enjoy such fare.
Kristine is very humble but very talented and experienced.She paid her dues working kitchens in Toronto with great such great chefs as Mark McEwan. But she would only makes mention of this when one insists on understanding where did she learn such great cooking techniques.
She is also hard working. Once, when asked how did she make a consommé soup of mushrooms. She explained that It required on average 16 hours of hard work resulting in a delicious clear broth that would delight the most discerning of palates. Using egg whites, she would patiently clarify the broth one layer at a time. That spells dedication to one’s art and if this is not hard work then what is?
Needless to say that the pasta dishes are served Italian style, very much al dente with different sauces to match. Her marinara sauce is excellent and her simple penne has satisfied many over the years either as a side or as a tray to be had at a party.
Claudio, a raconteur extraordinaire and gentlemanly host leads this husband and wife team with panache and class (a word we have lost in our internet driven world …). His namesake restaurant was recognized for its authencity by being certified with a plaque showing the words:” Ospitalita Italiana” in other words “Italian Hospitality” . The plaque is proudly displayed on the vestibule’s wall facing the entrance. This is no mean feat,as it requires a rigorous vetting process from the organizatioin’s head office in Italy, ranging from the sourcing of ingredients and products to the kitchen techniques. Claudio’s Ristorante won their certification hands down and have joined the handful restaurants who received similar recognitioin in Ontario. I believe thetere are about eight in total. . When I asked Kristine and Claudio what keeps them going strong, they candidly mentioned their love of all the people who believed in them from the start, people who were so happy to see this building being used once again as a fine dining establishment ….in the end , maybe one can dream , that although a long way away from the eternal city, here is a small yet compelling “cinecitta” studio but instead of movies it delivers a real human experience, contributing to the cultural renaissance of this great, ambitious City.