Chicken feed: One of my favorite dishes at Pagliacci's was the chicken cacciatore. Alla cacciatora means "cooked in the hunter's style"; in the Italy of old, the dish was most often made with rabbit and whatever proportions of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and onions the family's nonna favored.
No matter what meat is used, there's nothing quite like the smell that comes from cacciatore, essentially a fricassee that releases the scent of steamy, fried-flesh oil into the air. Throw in the garlic and tomatoes, and the aroma has a tendency to lure people into your kitchen while you're making the dish.
Note that this recipe from Pagliacci's calls for two whole breasts, which means four halves, making for very generous servings. I also found that the less flour used, the better; you want the breasts to be dusted, not coated. And the beleaguered moms from my kids' play group for whom I made this thoroughly enjoyed several bottles of Chianti Classico with it.
Pagliacci's Chicken Cacciatore
2 small, whole, skinless, boneless chicken breasts, split
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 small green pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 small red pepper, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
1 1-lb. can Italian plum tomatoes in juice, chopped, juice reserved
1 tsp. dried basil (or 4 fresh leaves, minced)
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. dried spaghetti
Pound chicken breasts lightly and evenly and dust with flour. Heat large skillet (big enough to hold breasts without overlapping) over medium-high heat and add olive oil; saute until light-brown on both sides. Remove chicken and set aside. Add garlic to pan and stir quickly until golden; add onion, peppers and celery. Saute for two or three minutes. Return chicken to skillet, placing vegetables on top of the breasts, and add the wine or stock. Cook without stirring until all of the liquid is absorbed. Add tomatoes and herbs; bring to a simmer. Season with red-pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and then simmer for thirty minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions, drain and divide between two plates. Top with chicken and sauce. Serves two.
More from the Med: Italian food is but one of the Mediterranean cuisines available at Ilios (1201 Broadway), which also cooks up Greek and Spanish fare. Since I first enjoyed this appealing eatery's artfully prepared food over a year ago, owner Dee Diamond--who's finally free of former hubby and former partner Bobby Rifkin, as well as former Ilios partner and chef Sean Brasel--says she's worked her butt off to maintain consistency and assemble a competent serving staff.
Well, judging from my last stop, she's succeeded. Not only was the service excellent--a rare condition these days--but the food was fab. The Best of Denver award-winning tapas selection was as wonderful as ever: The spicy barbecued lamb ribs will slay you, and they're buy one, get one free during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. My kids loved the pizza deal Ilios offers all the time; the uncooked dough was brought to the table so they could make little pizza faces with marinara, cheese, olives and green pepper ($3.99). Meanwhile, my entree, the ricotta raviolis with Mediterranean eggplant relish and feta ($10.50), was a savvy, adult mix of tart and sweet that helped cut through the richness of the pasta. The wine list offered some interesting choices to wash it down; I helped myself to a glass of Olivier LeFlaive Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($6.95) that was delish.
Open-and-shut cases: Last week, Diamond's ex-buddies opened Pacific Star Supper Club at 1735 Lawrence, in what was once the home of Zenith American Grill. Pacific Star claims to be taking the flavor of "the swing era and giving it an Asian flair. (Apparently, there still aren't enough Pan-Asian restaurants in Denver.) The menu is actually reminiscent of the one you'll find at Tommy Tsunami (1432 Market Street), which has managed to distinguish itself as both unique and fun; we'll see if Pacific Star can do as well.
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Returning to the Italian theme, Pasta Jay's (1435 Market Street) finally bit the dust, and the Boulder original, at 1701 Pearl Street, plans to move to smaller digs. Several restaurant-industry insiders are predicting the imminent demise of another Italian export from Boulder, Modena (2780 East Second Avenue): Former Santino's employee Mark Gordon recently sold all of his interest in the place to partner Bruce Rahmani, who also owns the European Cafe and Al Fresco at Brooks Towers in Denver. Gordon also sold his share of the original Modena, which is doing well at 2690 Baseline Road in Boulder, to Lupe Gonzales, who owns the European Cafe at 2460 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder.