Finding Pulcinella

Two brothers’ authentic ode to flavors of Naples

TABLE MANNERS Andrea Alegre delivers the goods to Betsy Bates, left, and Rachyl Wilson.

TABLE MANNERS Andrea Alegre delivers the goods to Betsy Bates, left, and Rachyl Wilson.

Photo By Tom Angel

Ristorante Pulcinella 142 Broadway Open for lunch and dinner, Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5 p.m.-till close, and for dinner only on Saturdays, 5 p.m.-close. Reservations accepted, but not required, 894-5014

You know when you accidentally make the pasta just right? It’s not overcooked, a little firmer than usual, but still tender. For some reason it is as hard to find the proper al-dente pasta at a restaurant as it is to make it so at home. It’s even harder to find Italian food that stays true to its roots. And harder still to find a restaurant owner who is also the cook, or in the case of Ristorante Pulcinella in downtown Chico, two brothers from Naples who moved to London, then settled in Chico five years ago.

Gnocchi, a potato-based dumpling; soft and subtle, with a Gorgonzola sauce in this case, is my favorite at Pulcinella. To my mouth, it’s one of the best in Northern California. The Penne Alla Sorrentina is penne pasta served with a red sauce, and here the parmesan is heavily baked into the Sorentina sauce. My partner ordered the Sorrentina—we actually switched plates halfway through. If you think red sauce is just red sauce, you need to seek out the Judisco brothers, Alberto and Elio, and have them broaden your horizons. Like anything done extremely well, there is more to it.

Invited into his kitchen to see exactly what more there was, I jokingly told Elio if he made the food less authentic then maybe he would make a killing, like the chains. Elio paused from what was an energetic dance and song as he heated oil in pan and said, “I can’t do that.” For perhaps the only time in our conversation, he became dead serious.

He quickly moved on to the next thought, though, and led us outside to check out his ‘63 Fiat coupe.

What I like as much as the food at Pulcinella is that the service is gracious and lacks melodrama. Elio and Alberto are incredibly comfortable in their skins—they’re just a couple of brothers from Naples who take food seriously and do not patronize their patrons. Pulcinella is hip to the art of Italian, much like the restaurants that line North Beach in San Francisco.

The servings are hearty, and you can really taste the olive oil—it doesn’t hide like cheap oil. Bread is served with olive oil and balsamic, a simple and honest start to a real Italian dish. Although the bread was average, I enjoyed its simplicity. There is no low-carb meal at Pulcinella, and amazingly enough the brothers Judisco have not bloated up.

Bob Dylan once said, “I don’t talk about what things mean; I talk about what things don’t mean.” Alberto and Elio will not tell you what you want to hear. And pasta is not just pasta, and sauce is not just sauce at Ristorante Pulcinella.