Bantam’s Materia Ristorante serves authentic Italian cuisine

In a quick bend on the short stretch of road between Litchfield and Bantam stands a solid block of mansion with a sign in front. Built in rough cut stone and leaning against its own pond, the house has the permanence of geology, as if it had always been there. The mind wonders at the old stories contained within these sturdy walls even as you enter its newest, Materia Ristorante.

In venerable New England tradition, Materia is also an inn, with the house being as quirky as it gets, turned into a four-bedroom lodging. For Executive Chef David DiStasi, it’s been a long and winding global road that has brought him here. “When I was 14, my father and my brother Michael [who now runs the inn] started a restaurant business,” he says of his early years in Watertown. “It was never, ‘Oh, I want to be a chef,’ growing up. The food was right there, all around me, and my first restaurant job was at La Tavola in Waterbury.

The seed had been planted, however, and with some encouragement, DiStasi attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. His first stop after graduation was at Eric Ripert’s famed Le Bernardin in New York City, where he learned lessons that still influence his cooking to this day. “Their style…the attention to detail always comes into play, the standards they set. Sauces, I love sauces now, and I incorporate the techniques into the Italian cuisine that I prepare.

Tagliatelle al ragú from Materia Ristorante in Bantam

Lisa Nichols for Hearst CT Media

After four years at Le Bernardin, DiStasi’s father asked if he wanted to visit any cousins ​​in Australia. “I made it a point to eat at Sepia in Sydney, and as soon as I did I knew that was where I wanted to work.”

What made him want to go to the other side of the world? “The food was so technically focused, but so clean and simple,” he says. “Martin Bern was trained in many Japanese techniques, and the more I learned, the minimalist approach, it was similar to Italian cooking. Two or three flavors, boom: done. It’s all a question of ingredients.

Not just a name — matter translates to matter, substance or, in a culinary context, ingredients – but a philosophy was born.

Unusually for Connecticut restaurateurs, DiStasi offers small-plate tasting menus, a bit of a culinary tour of its abilities. I had traveled to Bantam specifically for the tasting of five pasta dishes, the first taste. As the tasting courses are only available for the whole table, my companion and I follow the same recommendation and go deeper.

Albacore tuna appetizer from Materia Ristorante in Bantam

Albacore tuna appetizer from Materia Ristorante in Bantam

Lisa Nichols for Hearst CT Media

The first lesson is a amuse bouche of albacore crudo with fillet of gazpacho and cucumber brunoise. Dark pink, firm and flavorful, the meaty texture of Boston-caught tuna is offset by the crunch in the form of a crispy cracker made from risotto rice mousse. A drizzle of tomato gazpacho adds a more delicious umami.

Why does DiStasi offer its guests a pasta tasting with a fish and tomato dish? “It’s super fresh, a great way to start if you’re going to have lots of pasta and bold flavors. The clean and simple tuna, the burst of gazpacho…it almost wakes you up before you hit the greasy risotto.

The risotto arrives bright green and crisp in a homemade basil pesto with stracciatella cheese and extra fresh basil. Lovely texture, intensely creamy and herbaceous with the slightly acidic, almost yoghurt funk of the cheese, the dish is further enhanced with an accord of La Gioiosa prosecco amorosa. Sweet and sparkling prosecco DOC creates a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of every bite.

A one-year visa meant DiStasi had to leave or stay in Australia for another four years. With the opportunity to make every chef’s dream come true, he planned to move to Italy, landing at the Michelin-starred Trattoria Enrico Bartolini in Tuscany. The skills DiStasi picked up at the CIA, Le Bernardin and Sepia were honed in Tuscany. “I try to be a real classic Italian restaurant: do here what they do there. My inspiration comes from living in Italy, from the food I have eaten, from reading and learning about their history.”

Materia chef David DiStasi brings flavors from all over Italy to Bantam.

Materia chef David DiStasi brings flavors from all over Italy to Bantam.

Lisa Nichols for Hearst CT Media

DiStasi is quick to say that Materia is not Tuscan, Neapolitan, or Genoese cuisine. “It’s Italian food. I draw inspiration and flavors from all over Italy and make them my own.

The second lesson is an example. “It’s my way of bringing a common dish, Astice spaghetti, where the whole lobster is pan-fried with dried long pasta, tomatoes and basil. I wanted to make it more than pasta with sauce.

DiStasi’s creation is fresh homemade ravioli filled with burrata, lemon zest and herbs. Chunked claw meat is served on three plump ravioli, each stuffed with creamy cheese flavored with the sweet acidity of lemon zest, drizzled with peppery red lobster sauce. Cream, acid and heat combine perfectly al dente soft pasta and lobster in a delicious harmony.

This is paired with Bramito della Sala, a surprisingly good Umbrian chardonnay for an Italian iteration. Soft yet robust, it stands up well to lobster and toothy fresh pasta.

Putting the finishing touches on a millefoglie al pistacchio dessert at Materia Ristorante in Bantam

Putting the finishing touches on a millefoglie al pistacchio dessert at Materia Ristorante in Bantam

Lisa Nichols for Hearst CT Media

Dishes arrive at a moderate pace, each featuring a different concept, different flavor, all mouth-watering.

Next is a black swirl of linguine in squid ink, with tomatoes, garlic and hand-picked Maine crabmeat served with Aragosta Vermentino, a DOC wine from Sardinia.

Agnolotti di Genovese follows, each surprise in the form of a dumpling based on filets of Parmigiano fonduta and veal jus. This is the first course paired with a red, in this case an exceptional Terre Nere Montalcino.

Genoesea dish from Naples, surprisingly, is usually served with sauce. Agnolotti is Piedmontese, and the chef describes this as another example of why he calls Materia an all-Italian restaurant. “I put the two together – beef and onion, Naples and Piedmont – with the veal jus and the parmesan, and I can’t take it off the menu. People would revolt.

Portions of all courses are well thought out. My mate and I, even after having had five courses, are just pleasantly full. The agnolotti are a microcosm of experience. Each bite of fresh pasta is stuffed with a generous helping of stewed beef and onions. Again, the simplicity of the ingredients resulting in extraordinary flavors is a hallmark of the experience.

Later, I ask Chef DiStasi what it was like to be in Italy. “They are so passionate about food. This is our philosophy here: ‘raw materials‘, the best ingredients,’ he says.

I ask him what that means in Litchfield County, with farms and dairies on every corner. He immediately lists three on his menu: Hungry Reaper Farm in Morris, Vibrant Farm in Bantam and Desantis Farm in Watertown. Romaine lettuce, beets, carrots – the caprese salad comes from three farms combined. DiStasi says he’s never had so many compliments on a dish.

A wonderful wine from Montepulciano, Podere Castorani Cadetto is served with ribbons of tagliatelle pasta in a beef and pork stew.

A few days later, DiStasi says something that makes me shake my head vigorously, as if he can see me on the other end of the line. “The stew has been on the menu since day one,” he begins. “Probably the only dish I could eat every day and never get sick of it.” I wholeheartedly approve.

The chef swears by Parma’s “Mutti” brand tomato paste for its low acidity and fresh tomato sweetness. This is perhaps his most Tuscan dish, combining only beef, pork, carrots, celery, onion, herbs, good olive oil and red wine. Deceptively simple, it packs flavor born from great yet easily accessible ingredients, plus lots of time. Popular year round, it promises to be one of the best comfort foods in Northwest Connecticut as the year winds down and the nights get longer.

I watch some self-contained entrees make their way to other tables, and a steak catches my eye, as Tuscany is famous for its white Chianina cattle. When I ask if there is anything particularly Italian in the preparation of Bistec in Fiorentina at Materia, DiStasi’s answer is surprising: “In Florence, a steak is a sign of conviviality and sharing; nobody has a steak alone. It is cooked over open embers, served very rare, with olive oil, sea salt and wine. I have a Japanese grill in my kitchen with Japanese oak charcoal; cook it over an open flame. It’s about the experience of being together.

The last lesson is pistachio millefoglie, crispy pastry topped with peppery pistachio cream. “I love pistachios, it’s one of my favorite desserts, and a lot of people don’t really know what a real pistachio tastes like,” says DiStasi. “There’s a depth of flavor, and I wanted to show people what they actually taste like.”

He’s laughing. “That, and that’s my favorite dessert that’s in my kitchen.”

DiStasi holds dual American and Italian citizenship, but returned to his home country when the opportunity to open Materia presented itself in 2020 while he was still overseas. The other reason, he says, is that after living in New York, Sydney and Tuscany – and despite loving them – he no longer wanted to live in a city.

“There’s so much more inspiration here than looking at buildings all the time.”

We are certainly glad he did.

Materia Ristorante
637 Bantam Road, Bantam
860-567-3326, materiaristo.com, @materiaristorante on Instagram
Open for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday.
Wheelchair accessible


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