First, let’s set the record straight: It’s pronounced “pa-cha-reeno.” Extra points if you can say it in a charming Italian accent as Fabiana de Savino does. The name comes from an Italian expression and roughly translates to “the food that makes you happy,” according to de Savino, whose grandmother often used the expression to coax her to Sunday lunches. de Savino and her husband, Enrico Barbiero, the owners of Paciarino, are from Milan. They came to Maine eight years ago, after watching a documentary about Portland. Ready to get themselves and daughter Berenice out of the big city, they came for a visit and somewhere on the brick sidewalks decided they could make Barbiero’s dream of opening a restaurant come true in the Old Port.
The dining room feels like Italy—sunlight pours in from large windows, pale yellow walls are the color of a Tuscan afternoon, and I take a seat at one of the light wooden tables. Above hanging lights made from stainless colanders add a whimsical touch. It’s a warm, simple room, which turns out to be just right for the uncomplicated food.
I start with the caprese salad of mozzarella, juicy tomatoes, basil, and a dash of fresh ground pepper and salt. The bruschetta, merely toast and tomatoes, needs nothing else. “We want you to experience what is important to us,” de Savino tells me, “Fresh, simple ingredients, so one does not overwhelm any other.”
The couple tells me their strategy is to concentrate on doing one thing absolutely right. Paciarino’s thing is their pasta that is handmade daily. I discover this in a dish of fusilli with pesto. Sometimes the flavors of garlic can outmuscle everything else in pesto, but here the basil shines. Barbiero only uses basil from Olivia’s Garden in New Gloucester because of its clean flavor. If it’s not available, there simply will be no pesto on the menu that day, which isn’t an issue as any of the other pasta choices are made with the same straightforward formula of the freshest and fewest ingredients cooked simply. The lasagna, contrary to some ricotta-thick versions, is light and made with the traditional béchamel sauce layered with Bolognese and freshly ground Parmesan. In the oven, every layer melts together, creating a luscious dish that’s a customer favorite. Raviolis at Paciarino come in many varieties from ricotta and spinach to goat cheese to porcini. Be on the look out for zucca, the pumpkin ravioli served seasonally. Paciarino has also created gluten-free pasta, which tastes so much like the traditional type, I was hard pressed to tell the difference. It is served with pomodoro sauce, sweet tomatoes cooked down with extra-virgin olive oil and basil.
de Savino talks excitedly about what’s next for the restaurant. They’ll soon be hosting wine tastings and dinners with wine pairings. The food will be off-menu dishes, prepared especially to complement the wine selections. She is a Level One sommelier, eager to teach guests about various Italian wine regions. She will also be introducing more desserts in the next few months, all made in-house, “with the emphasis on chocolate,” she says, smiling.
All the pasta and most of the sauces made at Paciarino are also available for purchase. Soon they will start to carry a selection of Italian grocery items as well. And if you’re not local, these products will all be available for shipping.
Paciarino is the real deal. Simple Italian cooking your nonna would make. If you don’t have an Italian grandmother, that’s okay—you have Paciarino.
Paciarino | 470 Fore Street | Portland | 207-774-3500 | paciarino.com