Chef Elise Wiggins is hoping to open Cattivella, her wood-fired Italian eatery, by the end of April. Construction is well under way at the restaurant in Eastbridge Stapleton, where Wiggins will share a shopping center with several other big-name chefs who are opening new establishments on the eastern end of Stapleton's enormous Central Park. (At 800 acres, it's nearly as big as its New York City namesake.)
While Wiggins, who headed the kitchen at Panzano for more than fifteen years before leaving last summer to open her first restaurant, doesn't yet have a functioning kitchen at Cattivella, she's eager to share her food with Denver. A Neapolitan wood-burning oven was recently delivered to the restaurant but has yet to be installed; in the meantime, the chef has been practicing on a smaller Tuscan model in her own back yard.
Much of the proposed menu comprises recipes and techniques that Wiggins has learned over years of regular visits to Italy, including the town of Panzano, where one of her mentors, Dario Cecchini (known as "the Mad Butcher"), runs a shop called Antica Macelleria Cecchini. From Cecchini, Wiggins learned how to prepare beef shank by deboning the cut and stuffing it with its own bone marrow before braising. She'll serve the dish with slow-cooked polenta and carrots and mushrooms roasted in the wood-burning oven.
Other uncommon dishes will include Italian pasticcio, a dish first created for Catherine de Medici in the sixteenth century. It's a kind of pot pie with a savory top crust that hides the Italian princess's favorite foods: pork meatballs, cheese tortellini and Bolognese sauce. Creamy bechamel and Parmigiano add to the richness of the royal dish. Wiggins notes that in the court of the Medici family, pasticcio was much bigger than her version and came with a domed pastry lid that hid live birds, which would fly out when the crust was broken. (At Cattivella, Wiggins will be skipping the live birds.)
The menu at Cattivella will be small and seasonal; bar manager Giovanni Fioromonte will build a concise and evolving list of ten Italian wines selected to complement the changing roster. Those ten wines will be available by the glass or bottle, even at the high end of the price range, thanks to Coravin, a tool with a fine needle that pierces the cork for dispensing small servings without letting air into the bottle. The bar will also offer a "magnum party," allowing guests in bigger groups to enjoy wine from large-format bottles.
Here's a look at some of the regional, traditional dishes that will be part of Cativella's opening menu.