At Vignola Cinque Terre, the delightful, ivy-covered restaurant at 10 Dana St., diners get the best of two great places: Maine and Italy. While it might seem a strange combination, the restaurant’s commitment to farm-to-table cooking and its goal of producing authentic Italian cuisine mesh extremely well. It’s Italian food made with fresh Maine ingredients.
The restaurant’s owners, Dan and Michelle Kary, live on and operate Grand View Farm in Greene. The farm’s gardens and orchards supply much of the restaurant’s produce, most notably tomatoes, basil, hot peppers, beets and fennel, according to Executive Sous Chef Mitchell Ryan. New additions to the farm include bees, from which the restaurant receives all of its honey, and pigs. The pigs were introduced just two years ago; now there are 28.
“It’s quite a large investment of time,” Ryan said, laughing, noting that Dan Kary, a retired physician, cares for the animals.
The chefs travel to the farm several times a year to see just where their ingredients are produced.
“It’s not an instant process,” Ryan said. “It takes a long time, and that’s an eye-opener for them, to go up four or five times a year.”
Each October, the public is also invited to attend the restaurant’s annual Harvest Dinner, a six-course meal centered around what the farm is producing.
While the pigs are sourced from Grand View, the rest of the establishment’s meat comes from a butcher in Windham. Vignola Cinque Terre splits a cow with Hugo’s, another fine dining restaurant in town, every few weeks. Half broken down lambs and sometimes even deer make their way through the restaurant’s doors as well.
“We try not to order from the bigger meat purveyors,” Ryan said. “We like to get in animals that are half broken down, and then we break them down from there. So, all of the prime ribs and things like that are done in-house, which is nice.”
Vignola Cinque Terre is also a proponent of the slow-food movement, meaning that its staff strives to source nearby to both support local businesses and to reduce the environmental damage caused by transporting far-off supplies.
“I think it developed later on, more or less,” Ryan said of the slow food and farm-to-table tendencies. “I noticed it’s something that people are sort of pulling away from and I think it’s important to bring it back. That’s how food started in the first place.”
In addition to taking trips to the farm, head chef Lee Skawinski also takes members of his staff to Italy twice a year.
“It gives you a wider view of what their food is like and what they’re used to,” Ryan said, noting that it’s not anything like the Italian-American chain restaurants we are used to in the States.
There, Skawinski also cultivates the restaurant’s impressive wine list, which consists of over 200 bottles, by visiting up-and-coming vineyards and wineries.
“He’ll talk to the smaller people that have quality wine and he wants to get that, because it’s not something you’d see on a shelf in the grocery store,” Ryan said.
The wine list changes frequently, much like the menu, which Ryan said changes about twice a week, depending on which products the kitchen has on hand. Even the regulars are sometimes surprised by the constant variety. Ryan’s current personal favorite is the crispy duck breast.
Still, there are some items that rarely leave the menu, like the best-selling, house-made Bolognese sauce.
“It’s what we’re known for,” Ryan said. “We’ve made Bolognese here for years.”
The staff at Vignola Cinque Terre seek to create a new type of dining experience, one that Ryan believes makes the restaurant stand out from some of the faster-dining options in the city.
“It’s the overall ambience. You’re not trying to push people out the door,” he said. “You want people to come in and relax for at least an hour and have a nice meal. It’s not even necessarily a one-course meal: you want them to sit down and have the whole experience, and maybe even sit here for three hours and have a couple bottles of wine. It’s really a different type of eating experience.”
For more about Vignola Cinque Terre, call 207.772-1330 or visit http://www.vignolamaine.com. The restaurant is participating in Restaurant Week (March 1-12) and will be offering a three-course menu for $35; visit http://www.mainerestaurantweek.com.
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