A Roman holiday

My daughter hooked up with me in Rome a few years back. I was at the end of my stay, while she was just beginning. So, before she set out solo, I thought it wise to teach her a couple of basic survival phrases in the local tongue. Rather than clog her head with nonessentials (like “I’m lost” or “Where is the bathroom?”), we concentrated on two words that could see her through most important situations: Insalata Caprese — the signature salad we dined on twice a day.

Italians have their priorities in order: Eat well and everything else will fall into place. And nothing pleases those noble Romans more than this quintessential meal-size salad. Along with most of the country’s  culinary gems, it’s born of the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) school of cooking. Or, in this case, no cooking at all. It’s all about choosing primo ingredients and then stepping out of the way.

Which is exactly what Joe Gentile does at View. For this chef’s version of the Insalata Caprese of his heritage — here, called simply Tomato, Avocado and Mozzarella on the menu — he chooses a sweet, sunripe red globe of a tomato, slices it crosswise into thirds, then layers it with a thick slab of squeaky-fresh and pliant mozzarella. Then, adding a riff of his own devising to the classic formula (“caprese” means “caprice,” so he’s allowed), he adds another layer of creamy avocado to his construction, which he pins together with a stout rosemary sprig.

Next, returning to tradition, he lines a plate with leaves of fresh and pungent basil, upon which the glorified tomato takes its place. A drizzle of olive oil and splash of sweet-tart balsamic vinegar finishes the creation, and ecco: Roman sunshine on a plate.

Add a glass of straw-colored Pinot Grigio, a bite or two of bread and we’re talking la dolce vita, right here on the shores of Lake Calhoun.

Should the urge to linger overtake you, let’s just mention that Joe cranks out his own pasta right in View’s kitchen — as in the supple linguine upon which his Italian Sausage and Sweet Pea offering is built. He tosses in roasted garlic, broccoli florets and tomatoes for good measure, then dusts the whole dish with shavings of select Parmesan. Or try the lighter Shrimp al Fresco number, starring his homemade angel hair (they don’t call him Pasta Joe for nothing) tossed with grape tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic and olive oil, along with the temptingly grilled seafood — another KISS creation. Now you’re all set for a long, romantic passiagata around the lake.

View Restaurant & Bar
2730 W. Lake St.