Written by Veronique F. Saiya
Many great accomplishments originate from initial seeds of desire. The birth of Marco Ristorante Italiano began because the three owners of the 1842 Inn—Dario Leo, Nazario Filipponi, and Giordono Filipponi—wanted the whole Macon community to enjoy the same hospitality they offer at their bread and breakfast establishment on College Street.
When it opened its doors last month, the new restaurant was greeted with an enthusiastic public. Probably a combination of their established record in hospitality and because everyone loves to explore a new restaurant.
The restaurant occupies the building which was formerly Gregory”s Restaurant. Aside from the sea of cars, the patron-filled tables on the veranda, and a sign bearing the names of two of the owners” sons, little has changed about the exterior’s previous appearance. The interior, however, reveals several distinct differences. Billowing ivory fabric drapes along the sides of the floor-to-ceiling windows in an elegant and romantically European manner. Colorful modern art adorns the walls, adding continuity and whimsy. And the modern art is not restricted to the walls but decorates the tables as well.
The hand-painted Italian plates on which your meals arrive are abstract novelties, and you are even allowed to purchase them as a memento.
My husband, Ken, and I were a bitlate for our reservation which resulted in a wait at the bar while waiting to be seated. We took that opportunity to peruse the extensive wine list. The offerings include a host of domestic and fine imported wines, many of which were Italian.
Once seated, I thought it a bit odd that the table setting included a champagne glass until I was offered complimentary champagne, which was being served in honor of the restaurant’s recent opening.
Except the modern plates, the table setting was rather conservative. A traditional place setting was nestled around the colorful plates, and the tablecloths were a tasteful ivory jacquard. The menu also reflected traditional aspects, as prices could only be found on my husband”s menu.
The menu is far from the cutting edge. However, the authentic Italian entrées are sure to please the American palate and were definitely appealing. Plus, I frequently find that, in an effort to put a spin on traditional food, a chef often falls short of making his creativity really work. So why tamper with a good thing? That is, if you are capable of executing traditional cuisine well—and Marco Ristorante Italiano Chef Leo is certainly capable.
Chef Leo boasts over 25 years of culinary experience. Originally from Pugulia, Italy, he first came to the United States as chef to the Italian Ambassador, and in 1995 he accepted the position of head chef at Teatro Goldoni in Washington, D.C., where he remained for twelve years. He met Filipponi in the 1990s while working with him at Teatro Goldoni. The two hit it off and knew they would work together again someday.
Filipponi, also far from a novice, has had over forty years of experience in the hospitality industry. Originally from the Marche region of Italy, he has traversed the world and owned a hotel on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent before putting down roots in Macon.
Both eager to please, Filipponi and his son, Giordono, are easily spotted mingling in the dining room, and ensuring a pleasant dining experience for their guests. When I asked Filipponi what his business motto was, he responded, “The answer is yes; what is the question?” His motto seems to be instilled in the restaurant. When Ken and I found that the olive oil and herb mixture for the bread was devoid of balsamic vinegar, we requested some, and it was on the table within three minutes, no questions asked.
The only real criticism I have of the restaurant was that although everyone on the staff is eager to please, their eagerness does not always mean correct service. For example, my clean and unused dinner fork was removed along with my salad fork after my salad was finished. I had to ask for a dinner fork after my entrée arrived, and I was promptly given a salad fork. But I was at the restaurant during opening week, so these kinds of little kinks will probably work themselves out in time
While service is important, the food will always remain the most important aspect of any restaurant, and the food at Marco Ristorante Italiano will not disappoint.
Cold and hot appetizers range in price from $6 to $10. For my appetizer, I selected the prosciutto crudo con formaggio, which consisted of several slices of prosciutto served over arugula, with a small mound of warm goat cheese, garnished with blueberries and walnuts.Prosciutto is too often ruined by overly-adventurous chefs who add too many heavy and conflicting fruit flavors and embellishments to it. These additions drown out the prosciutto’s taste. Chef Leo, however, perfectly combines the prosciutto with delicate selections that do not dilute the prosciutto’s effectiveness. The dish is simple, refreshing, and delicious.
Other cold appetizers include a fresh mozzarella salad with grape tomatoes, basil sauce, and black olives; baby spinach salad with green apples and toasted almonds, together with a vanilla and lemon dressing; and mixed green salad tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Hot appetizers include tomato soup served with basil and crispy oysters; sautéed tiger shrimp and mushrooms served over a bell pepper emulsion; and potato cake with pork sausage and rapini (turnip leaf)with a Gorgonzola cheese sauce.
For my entrée, I ordered the linguine con astice rapini e pomodoro fresco. For those who like a little kick to your tomato sauce, this dish will definitely be a pleaser. A split lobster tail is nestled alongside a bed of flawless linguine al dente. A slightly spicy, yet light, tomato sauce containing chunks of perfectly-cooked lobster and bits of rapini is mixed throughout the linguine.
If you are a pasta lover, you will be thoroughly pleased with the pasta selections. The pasta noodles, as well as the breads, cheeses, and desserts, are made from scratch daily—and it shows!
Since they were out of Ken’s first choice, the Angus tenderloin with sautéed asparagus, butter, oven- roasted tomato, and black truffles in a Barolo sauce, he opted for the fish stew.
A plentiful supply of scallops, mussels, shrimp, and fish were served in a large bowl with a fish emulsion. The soup had a rich, hearty taste, complemented the flavor of the seafood beautifully. The stew is out of this world and is a must-have for seafood lovers. The consistency was just right—neither over—nor under-cooked.
Marco Ristorante Italiano was a real treat. It was refreshing to find a restaurant where style doesn’t reign over substance, upscale doesn’t mean pretentious, consistency rings true, and hospitality is a staple!#