Opening of a new gourmet Italian restaurant in Montgomery
Eric Rivera has a vision for a night out at Ravello Ristorante, the fine-dining Italian restaurant opening next month in the renovated City Fed building in downtown Montgomery.
It starts with light plates of crudo and appetizers washed down with Italian wine, then moves to a few small plates of shared pasta before the table collectively devours a gigantic sirloin steak. A round of homemade Limoncellos accompanies the dessert. Then they retire to the rooftop bar, enjoying the view of Commerce Street.
Ravello is named after a town on the scenic Amalfi Coast in southern Italy, which also inspires the cuisine that Rivera’s kitchen will serve when the highly anticipated restaurant and event space opens.
“Simplicity, lightness, freshness,” says Rivera, checking off Ravello’s menu attributes. “We try to give the essence of the Amalfi Coast. Lots of seafood. The pasta is very light in sauce, with fresh tomatoes, basil, parsley, different herbs.
Ravello is the latest venture from Vintage Hospitality Group, which also owns Vintage Year restaurant and Vintage Café in the Old Cloverdale area of Montgomery. Jud Blount is the owner and Rivera is the executive chef of the group.
The new restaurant, with an open kitchen and special chef’s table, will be in the ornate City Fed building on Commerce Street. Asked to describe the setting, Rivera says, “Think Great Gatsby. It’s very regal, the 1920s. When you walk in you feel transported to another place.
The kitchen makes all of its pastas – long noodles, molded constructions like ravioli, and cut creations in different shapes. He butchers his own meat and processes ultra-fresh whole fish from the Gulf, delivered directly from the boat.Tables in an adjoining courtyard will also have a view of the kitchen through a glass partition. The third part of the complex includes a ballroom, meeting space and access to the rooftop bar.
“We get reports of what’s coming in from the Gulf before it even lands on the docks,” Rivera says.
This sort of thing is expected in an upscale restaurant. But Ravello goes above and beyond, serving its own hydroponically grown lettuce, herbs and specialty produce in two converted shipping containers located behind Vintage Year. The offshoot, called MGM Greens, is equivalent to half an acre of farmland.
You’ll find something else pleasantly different at Ravello: when the boats dock, Rivera doesn’t just buy the most popular finfish like snapper and grouper. It also buys the bycatch, presenting it in crudos and center-plate entrees; their bones flavor seafood broths and sauces.
“We are very committed to the sustainability of seafood products,” says the chef. “We wear this as a badge of pride.”
It could be an invasive species like the lionfish or a lesser-known ocean dweller like the golden tilefish or sand tilefish. “Our guests are, like, I’ve never had that fish,” Rivera says. “Then they try it, and may even like it better than traditional grouper or snapper.”
The lemony cuisine of Ravello and other towns overlooking the Amalfi Coast will be well represented, including old-fashioned ricotta gnocchi, called ndunderi, from the town of Maiori.
One aspect of dining in Amalfi is sharing plates between tables, a practice Rivera recommends to Ravello.But also look for dishes that represent the diverse flavors of other Italian regions, such as boletus risotto from the north, cacio e pepe from Rome, and fresh grilled sardines like those from Sicily to the south.
“It brings everyone together,” he says. “When we visited the Amalfi Coast, we had two or three starters, we shared pasta, maybe a pizza or two, and maybe a fish or something.”
The Colorado native has worked at a variety of restaurants in his home state, including upscale steakhouses in Colorado Springs and Denver, as well as an Italian-style wine bar and pizzeria.
After moving to Birmingham, he helped open the Todd English PUB in 2013 and later served as executive chef of food operations at the Westin Birmingham hotel. He oversaw food service at the Redmont Hotel during its 2016 renovation before moving to Montgomery to join Vintage Hospitality Group.
His wife, Alyssa – they met when they both worked at the Westin – is events and catering coordinator for Vintage Hospitality.
Ravello’s original plan to open in early 2020 was derailed by the pandemic.
“The state of the world has changed, so we had to pivot,” says Rivera. “We are very lucky to have great distributors who made sure we got our equipment before all the prices went up and lead times started to get really long. Some of the equipment we purchased now has delivery times of 52 or 54 weeks.
Open first for dinner and eventually for lunch, Ravello is designed to fill a fine dining niche around Italian food and drink.
“For me, it goes back to our roots of simple, clean cooking,” he says. “There is a lot of meat and three here, a lot of heavy cooking. I love the simplicity of Italian cuisine and its freshness. We missed it here. »
(Courtesy of SoulGrown)