Eyetalian Invasion

Roman Cucina from California gives Dallas another serving of meatballs

Roman Cucina from California gives Dallas another serving of meatballs

An Italian-American restaurant chain from Southern California is stepping outside its stomping grounds, and its first foray will be in Dallas. Roman Cucina will open at Belt Line and Coit roads, in the old Marrakesh Cafe space, with a renovation already underway.

Construction is moving forward with an opening date slated for this fall, confirmed a spokesman at their original restaurant in Sunset Beach, who said that co-founder Giovanni Roman was in Dallas to oversee the build-out.

They chose Dallas, he said, because the city seemed ready for an Italian-American restaurant and because the environment was business-friendly.

Roman Cucina was founded in Orange County in 2001 by brothers Giovanni and David Roman; their partners include Jonny Walla and Ryan Tombrello. The company places a high value on service.

The atmosphere is very Phil Romano, which is to say, there's a shtick, with a rustic brick interior, arches, fireplace and Frank Sinatra singing in the background. Photos on the Facebook page show the ongoing installation of a particularly sharp white-and-black-tiled floor.

The location had recently been unoccupied; Cafe Marrakesh closed in spring 2010 and was replaced by Tex-Mex restaurant Rio Azul, which closed in early 2011.

Roman Cucina's recipes are inspired by the Romans' Italian grandmother, including her trademark meatballs. Obviously they heard that meatballs are a big trend in Dallas right now. Specialties include steak Milanese; penne with shrimp and crab in a spicy red arrabiatta sauce; and pasta Tombrello, a twist on Bolognese with ground Italian sausage and mushrooms; and pizza and calzones.

All your Ital-American classics are here: garlic bread with pepperoni, sauteed mushrooms, chicken Parmigiana, eggplant Parmigiana, Italian sausage, meatballs and calamari.

Roman Cucina also has the special-request diner category covered: The penne, fettuccine, spaghetti, bread and pizza dough are egg-free; dishes can be made vegan by requesting no butter or cheese. And they can substitute gluten-free pasta on any dish. Gluten-free pasta — will wonders never cease?

Roman Cucina
Roman Cucina will feature Italian-American dishes culled from family recipes. Photo courtesy of Roman Cucina
Roman Cucina
Construction at the new Dallas branch of Roman Cucina is underway. Photo courtesy of Roman Cucina