Ever play the game “What was my least favorite dish from that fine meal?” and not be able to come up with one? Ever do that after nine courses? That’s the kind of thing that can happen to you when David Cecchini is in the kitchen, as is the case at Cecco Ristorante, which has been open about six months now in Solvang. The longtime Santa Barbara chef has left the Harbor Restaurant to be full-time at Cecco, a mere half mile from his home, and it shows in the exquisitely balanced flavors on every plate. For example, there are the fried oysters on thin golden beet slices, a brilliant take on surf and below turf. A bit of baby arugula adds an almost horseradishy kick, and then there’s a truffle emulsion for extra unctuousness.
Finding the perfect combo of flavors is Cecchini’s innate skill, it seems, as it even shows up in the wines he’s producing at Palmina under his own name. A 2010 Bianco, for instance, takes three grapes (tocai friulano, arneis, and malvasia bianca) that Steve Clifton bottles separately and finds the point at which they all sing food-friendly harmony together. The whole Cecco experience is about pleasure, from the fine wine list to the food.
Despite all the deliciousness he provides, Cecchini, who has also led the kitchen at Restaurant Nu and the Wine Cask, is quite modest, saying, “The menu that I originally wrote before we opened, it’s not quite where we are yet.” He had been printing a slightly different menu daily until the last three weeks, but says, half-joking, “You have to stabilize your menu so the staff doesn’t get confused on a daily basis.” Still, he could see the menu changing a lot again when the seasons change.
In the meantime, there are items like a deconstructed/reconstructed (after your work) carbonara, with homemade fettuccini, cream, parmesan, peas, guanciale as the upscale pork product, and an egg over the top, so once you break its yolk and mix it in, you’ve got something stunningly rich. And the pizzas, from that wood-fired oven, crisp and delicious. Three of them—the Gianni, Marco, and Cesca—are named after his three children. “None of them will eat their own pizza,” he explained, describing how one element on each—say a spicy salami versus a plain—turns one of them off.
Nonetheless, he caps the story with the lines, “It’s my dish. One day they’ll become their pizzas.” It’s hard to imagine they won’t.
Rush to some rustic Italian fare at Cecco Ristorante, 475 1st Street, Solvang, 688-8880, ceccoristorante.com.