Fascino: Italian You’ve Never Had

Award-winning chef Ryan DePersio makes the grade (and the paper) with his creative approach to modern Italian cuisine with Fascino.

Enjoy a taste of ‘Italian without Borders’ with Fascino.

Photo courtesy of Fascino.

New Jersey is swamped with Italian restaurants, the kind that pop up on every other block and offer the parmigiana, marsala or francese. They are loved for the magical experience that ensues after tasting fresh tomatoes, cheese, bread and wine. It’s not rocket-science, it’s just good ingredients.

With its sophisticated food culture and diversity, it is not surprising that Montclair would be home to its own lineup of Italian joints—but not all are created equal. Enter Fascino, the brainchild of Chef Ryan DePersio, a creative mind with the natural stock to run a refreshingly unique take on modern Italian cuisine. In the first six months of its existence at 331 Bloomfield Ave., Fascino received three-star reviews and an explosive write-up in The New York Times. The spot is also listed as #6 in Zagat’s Top 50 Restaurants in New Jersey. Despite its prestige, this BYOB offers price points for everyone.

De Persio did not open Fascino to do what had been done before. After a visit to his ancestral home of Italy, he decided it was time run his own restaurant. Only 24, De Persio had established the culinary career of a man far more advanced in years. By this time, this NY Restaurant School graduate worked under some of the most renowned chefs in New York City, including mentor Jean Georges Vongerichten. By this time, De Persio had also been picked up at the Michelin-rated La Braserie in Paris, France and Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Italy.

This man whose career has taken him across the globe found his inspiration within his own familial home. “I was never a good student in grade school,” said De Persio. “I was the kid who never wanted to show up. I did, however, fall in love with cooking. Even though she had to convince me to go to high school, my mother taught me how to cook by the time I was 10. With 75 chefs now working under me, I can say I did fairly well for someone who was, perhaps, not the best student.” Today, Fascino runs with the help of DePersio’s brother (as manager) and mother (as head pastry chef).

Photo courtesy of Fascino.

Fascino is only one of De Persio’s restaurants characterized as “Italian without borders.” Although almost every dish is Italian in influence and structure, this is not traditional cuisine. De Persio believes the ratio between Italian to not Italian influence is about 80/20. He works hard to bring the best of all worlds to his menu. Examples of this fusion can be seen all over the restaurant. Still, De Persio remains precise and technical in his approach.

“We make fresh pasta here. Instead of the red and cream sauce you normally see, we’ll do pasta with braised meats—a pappardelle with a braised duck sauce,” said De Persio. “Ravioli with ricotta is a common dish but we experiment with mushrooms and mascarpone. I keep it unique and modern. For the names, I’ll also use Italian words familiar to you if you came from an Italian family. For instance, eggplant rollatini is a light dish with so much flavor. My mother made it all the time growing up. I used the word ‘rollatini’ for a new dish I designed. I took a piece of tuna and pounded it paper thin. Then rolled it with cucumber, fennel and red onions and served it completely raw with sesame dressing. This, I referred to as a tuna rollatini.”

De Persio has never been afraid to experiment and his skill has earned him features on the Today Show, Food Network and Tony Tantillo’s. In town, De Persio is involved with the Montclair Food and Wine Festival as well as the food events at the Montclair Art Museum. If you are interested in learning more about this Zagat-rated, BYOB, peruse their menu or visit at 331 Bloomfield Ave. Fascino offers catering and private dining services and is open throughout the week.

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