He did it for the Lulz
Michelin-star chef Lulzim Rexhepi does pimped-out Italian in The Colony
The Colony may be 25 miles northwest of Dallas, but a new restaurant opening soon might make it worth the drive. Veranda Italian Bistro in Austin Ranch soft opens over the March 23-24 weekend. Leading the kitchen is chef Lulzim Rexhepi, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America whose resume includes time at a Michelin 3-star restaurant in France.
"Chef Lou," who started as a prep cook at Pino Luongo's Le Madre in New York, has cooked all over — from Roger Verge's Michelin-starred Le Moulin de Mougins to the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Geneva to Kittichai, the award-winning Thai restaurant in Soho. For the past two years, Rexhepi has been running SeaSalt, a seasonal restaurant in resort town Cape May, New Jersey.
"My cousin is in Dallas. He said 'I want you to come and look at this place,'" Rexhepi says. "I came out in January. I saw the space and realized there was a lot of potential. In that area, there's no real Italian restaurant, not the way I want to do. There are pizza places, but not what we want to capture."
The menu is Italian-American — pizza, pasta, seafood — but with some extra schwing.
"Have you ever watched that show Pimp My Ride?" Rexhepi asks. "I'm taking all of the Italian-American favorites, and I'm going to 'pimp my ride' on every dish. The dishes we're very accustomed to seeing, but doing [them] professionally and artfully and making sure the flavor tastes great.
"You've seen chicken Parm, but not the quality I'm going to put on it. Shrimp scampi I’m doing with head-on prawns. Everyone is saying, 'You can't do that.' I don't think I would eat shrimp without the heads anymore. It adds so much flavor."
Appetizers include steamed mussels, Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, zucchini friti with a spicy tomato dipping sauce, an antipasti plate, and beef carpaccio. Salads range from traditional mixed greens to warm artichoke salad with prosciutto to panzanella, which Rexhepi says is his favorite dish in the world. "I had to call and ask my mom if she remembered the recipe," he says.
Lobster ravioli is one of his tried-and-true dishes. "I've done it at a couple of my restaurants. Everyone loves it, so I keep adding it to the menu," he says.
"It's so simple. I use real lobster to make the ravioli and cook them, then toss them in a brown butter with tomatoes and asparagus, and finish with sea salt and herbs. I have two risottos, with seafood and a vegetarian one. I think I like the vegetarian one better. It's with English peas, tomato and other veggies, so it's very vibrant."
Other pastas include penne a la vodka; spaghetti and meatballs; and squid ink pasta with clams, mussels and squid. Entrées include mahi mahi with olives and tomato, chicken with sausage and peppers, pancetta-wrapped pork with broccoli rabe, and braised beef with polenta. Many of those dishes appear in smaller configurations under a "tapas" category.
Veranda is going into the old Centro Mexican space, which has been revamped slightly, with candles and Venetian plaster. Rexhepi will be juggling Veranda with SeaSalt, where he remains the chef-owner.
"It's open from May to October, so I expect that I'll be flying back and forth a lot over the next several months," he says.