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Franco's Trattoria customizes Italian creations

| Sunday, April 10, 2005

If Joseph D'Amico and Joseph Tambellini can't keep track of who's who among relatives, they can be forgiven.

The D'Amico and Tambellini families are familiar names in Western Pennsylvania. They have made significant contributions to the Pittsburgh community for decades -- especially when it comes to fine Italian cooking.

And these two members of the families sure know how to run a restaurant.

The second cousins joined forces in August 2000 to open Franco's Trattoria in Dormont. It's a tribute to D'Amico's father, "Franco," a decades-long chef and restaurateur admired by those seeking Italian specialties.

The elder D'Amico is best known for his signature fried zucchini, a dish he began serving at F. Tambellini's along Seventh Street, Downtown, in the early '70s and which has become a classic appetizer in Western Pennsylvania restaurants.

"The produce hucksters had so much zucchini back then that they couldn't give them away," says Joseph D'Amico. "My mother showed my father how to make it like they did in Italy."

D'Amico's father -- who has retired -- frequently stops in at his namesake restaurant. "This is really the only 'Franco's,' " says D'Amico, talking about the Dormont restaurant. "We cater to Franco-philes."

The restaurant's cuisine is hard to pin down. "Mediterranean-influenced, but some call it contemporary," he says. Ingredients are bought fresh daily from local purveyors. Fifty percent of entree sales is seafood and fish; veal, chicken and pork also are popular.

Signature dishes include Veal Osso Buco, Roast Veal and Peppers, Double Cut New Zealand Baby Lamb Chops, and Porterhouse a la Franco. The last is a 30-ounce steak stuffed with whole garlic cloves.

One of Tambellini's most popular dishes, Almond Crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Mandarin Orange Beurre Blanc and Wildberry Marmalade, might sound overwhelming, but it's simple enough to make at home and allows the use of a variety of fruit sauces or spreads.

The dish reflects the cooking philosophy at Franco's Trattoria.

"Special requests are a hallmark here," says Joseph Tambellini. "We're eager to change a recipe to a customer's liking."


This item usually is served on weekends at Franco's Trattoria. Sea bass is a delicate fish, says executive chef Joseph Tambellini, so you do not want to grill it. In testing this recipe for the home kitchen, the Trib staff used Giant Eagle Wildberry Fusion Spread. Tambellini uses Roland's Red and Black Berry Melba Sauce for consistency, but home cooks can use any favorite berry flavor. The chef's recipe for beurre blanc does not call for butter; whipping cream adds the fat, flavor and consistency, and the sauce should not break.

Almond Crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Mandarin Orange Beurre Blanc and Wildberry Marmalade

  • 2 (11 ounces each) cans mandarin oranges in light syrup
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup red and black berry melba sauce or fruit berry spread, more for garnish
  • 2 (8 ounces each) fillets Chilean sea bass
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
  • Water (to steam fish)
  • Slivered blanched almonds, lightly toasted

Drain the mandarin oranges, reserving the syrup. You should have about 1 cup (8 ounces) syrup.

For the beurre blanc: In a saucepan, combine the syrup and orange juice. Bring to a simmer and reduce to 1/2 cup. Add the whipping cream and reduce, stirring frequently, until the mixture is a mustard color and coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile, prepare the wildberry marmalade: Reserve six whole mandarin orange segments for the garnish. Place some or all of the remaining whole orange segments into a small skillet and combine them with one cup fruit sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until reduced to a jamlike consistency. The fruit will caramelize -- watch closely, stirring occasionally, to avoid burning.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Salt and pepper the fillets, to taste. Place the sea bass fillets into a small baking dish just big enough to hold the fish in one layer, pour in a little water and cook in the hot oven for 10 minutes per inch of thickness at the thickest point. Halfway through cooking, add a little more water to keep the fish from drying out. Three to five minutes from the end of cooking, sprinkle the fish with the toasted almonds. The fish is done when the flesh flakes when touched with a fork.

To plate, pour a pool of the beurre blanc onto two dinner plates. Gently lift each piece of fish off the baking dish -- a flexible fish spatula works best for this -- and place them onto one side of the dishes. Place three mandarin orange segments on the dishes opposite the fish.

Dot the top of the fish with some of the marmalade. Drizzle some of the remaining fruit sauce around the fish and mandarin oranges, and, if desired, run a knife through the sauce to make a decorative pattern.

Makes 2 servings.

Additional Information:

Details

Franco's Trattoria, 3271 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays. Details: (412) 531-6900

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