The Italian table offers us a veritable feast. No single characteristic defines Italian cuisine — it is an attitude and an approach towards food. Regional variations, the high quality of ingredients, and a time-honoured sense of tradition are its mainstays. Still, Italian cuisine can be primarily characterized by simplicity, with many dishes having only a few focal ingredients. Traditionally-inspired Italian cooks rely on the quality of their products combined with an allegiance to seasonality rather than more intricate preparations, albeit with a few exceptions.
Dino and Carla Dassie opened Fat Olive, an Italian-inspired family-friendly restaurant, in a small plaza in Dorchester last fall. Fat Olive is a paean to the food Dino’s family has always cooked and eaten. Carla tells me that they considered many locations before they chose Dorchester, and more than fifty names for the restaurant before they settled on Fat Olive.
Dino was born into an Italian family. One side comes from Calabria, the southern region that forms the “toe” of the Italian peninsula. The other side of the family is from low-lying Veneto in northeast Italy, which faces the Adriatic Sea. He learned to cook from his mother Elena, and his aunts. At a young age he knew he wanted to open an Italian restaurant. After high school he attended Conestoga College, where he obtained his diploma in Business Administration and Marketing. After college Dino put his dream on hold and began driving a truck, but continued hosting large parties for family and friends. Family lunch with his parents, Elena and Benito, was always a small feast lasting nearly four hours.
Three years ago Dino and Carla attended Goodfella’s Pizza School on Staten Island, New York, widely considered to be one of the most comprehensive, hands-on pizza schools. They were instructed on how to make wood-fired pizzas by pizza champions. They were coached on the owning and operating of a restaurant. Later chef/instructor David Rosen was engaged as a culinary consultant. Carla tells me, “Dino had been preparing for this restaurant from birth.”
The kitchen is Dino’s sphere, and he and Chef Nolan Darling translate the region-specific Italian culinary canon with a blended regional perspective. It is an interpretation of the ever-elusive concept of Italian culinary authenticity that comprises 19 geographic regions, each of which has many subsets of idiosyncratic aesthetics and flavour profiles. The pared-down, uncomplicated presentation at Fat Olive hits the flavour mark, as each element of every dish is combined deftly and with thought.
Chef Darling spent a decade cooking in different kitchens, featuring different styles of food, and using a wide variety of ingredients, before landing at Fat Olive. His career began when he was hired as a dishwasher in a downtown London restaurant. He needed the job to pay for tuition at the Architectural Technology program at Fanshawe College. “After a few months of washing plates with baked-on cheese, an abundance of cutlery, silver ramekins full of sauces and dips, and sauté pans upon sauté pans, I finally was able to become a line cook,” he states on his blog mukngrub.com.
Fat Olive’s menu offerings capture the essence of Italian cookery. The cuisine is intuitive, menu items iconic and prepared with locally-sourced and quality Italian-specific specialty ingredients, interpreted with skill and an eye towards tradition. Like many good Italian restaurants, consistency and the quality of the menu offerings are the hallmarks of the Fat Olive experience.
For Fat Olive’s rich tomato sauce, Dino prefers using Mutti-brand tomatoes from the Parma-based Italian company. They’re grown in Southern Italy and preserved at the height of tomato season when the fruit is at its peak. They use several DOP (an affirmation of specificity and literally a protected designation of origin) types of cheese like Piave, which is produced in the Dolomites area in the northernmost tip of the Veneto region, Montasio, a nutty, semi-hard mountain cheese from the Veneto region, and Asiago, a semi-cooked cow’s milk cheese from the Asiago plateau.
Dino sources his pepperoni, ground beef, ground pork, and pancetta from Metzger Meats in Hensall, which is known for carefully selecting ingredients from trusted producers who use traditional European methods, and also for the latest in food processing innovation. Occasionally Gerhard Metzger purchases wild boar from Ingrid and Fred Des Martines, the owners of Perth Pork Products. Seasonal produce is procured from Howe Farms, which has been operating in Elgin County for five generations.
Entertaining is Carla Dassie’s forte. Walking through the restaurant she stops at a table to suggest a small batch organic wine, or attentively inquire about a patron’s meal or well-being. She converses with and listens to her customers. She champions the art of hospitality with composure. Sonia Williams is the charming and knowledgeable front house manager who runs the show.
There is a lot to like on the menu. Fat Olive specializes in paninis, strombolis (a cousin of the calzone, with the sauce on the inside), freshly made pasta, home-made sauces, bruschetta flatbread, tiramisu, and cannoli with sweet ricotta. Signature dishes include a creamy, fresh semolina fettuccine alfredo with pancetta, herbs and Parmigiano. There is a house-made semolina rigatoni with roasted pepper, caramelized onions, goat cheese and a balsamic glaze. Crispy-coated Chicken Parmesan is served with a side of spaghetti in a rich tomato sauce. At dinner the spaghetti comes with a Fat Meatball. There is a New York Striploin, Hickory-smoked Pork Chop and Salmon Risotto with lemon, arugula and roasted peppers and balsamic glaze. We love the Forest Berry gelato sourced from the Cream Beanery.
Special and unique Italian wines come from a consigner who also supplies some of Toronto’s Buca restaurant’s private imports. Carla and Sonia are knowledgeable and will help guide you through less familiar territory on the excellent wine list. There is a good and varied blackboard selection of craft beer. Fat Olive uses the same love and culinary techniques you will find in an Italian home kitchen. Carla sums up the Fat Olive experience in a few words: good food, family, friends, love, and homemade. Be sure to make a reservation.
2135 Dorchester Road, Dorchester
Tuesday: 4:00 pm–8:00 pm
Wednesday: 11:30 am–8:00 pm
Thursday: 11:30 am–9:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 am–10:00 pm
Sunday: 11am–2:00 pm / 4:00 pm–7:00 pm