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Parisi’s Ristorante: True gourmet food in Rockford

July 1, 1993

Parisi’s Ristorante: True gourmet food in Rockford

By Brandon Reid, Assistant Editor

Medallions of veal—delivered fresh just hours before preparation—are sautéed in an egg butter with medallions of lobster tail and fresh asparagus spears in a creamy sauce and are prepared and served to order by a chef with the pickiest of tastes.

“Vitello Per La Principessa” ($26) is one of more than 1,600 original gourmet recipes in chef Giacomo (pronounced Jac-a-moe) Parisi’s cookbook. Parisi, a native of Europe who has lived in Rockford for 18 years, opened Parisi’s Ristorante, 6164 E. Riverside Blvd., in Loves Park, about two years ago. His menu includes regional Italian gourmet cuisine and French gourmet cuisine.

Parisi began working around chefs in Italy at age 15 and later was trained under them. His restaurant offers the Rockford area a unique opportunity to experience true gourmet food at extraordinarily affordable prices. Entres, such as “Veal Morels,” “New York Strip A La Fiorentia,” and “Shrimp Thermidore” range from $15 to $26. Appetizers and soups, including “Mozzarella Pomidoro,” “Crevettes Dijon” and “Zuppa Del Giorno” range from $3.75 to $12. Desserts, including Créme Brulée and “Crépe with Banana and Strawberry,” range from $5 to $6.

Contrary to many restaurants that advertise a “chef” or “gourmet” food, Parisi is a true chef whose certification is displayed proudly on the wall and whose dishes are truly gourmet and truly his own.

“The idea here is somebody say, ‘Well, I ate in Italian restaurant,’ and I say, ‘No’,” Parisi said in his thick distinguished Italian accent. “Sometimes I laugh. I see [other restaurants] advertised as gourmet. They don’t even know what gourmet is. When you cook gourmet, you are trained from chef there, not here. That’s when you’re cooking gourmet.”

Parisi’s restaurant is located in the corner of an outlet mall by brichicoiffure salon, Nedrebo’s, bella, The Window Gallery and White Bear Cleaners. The restaurant offers many fine wines and is simply yet elegantly decorated. White walls are detailed by dark wood trim and dark green carpet. The artwork of local artist Ed Ramsten, whose wife Trish performs live jazz standards on weekends, is displayed throughout the dining room. Linen cloth napkins are folded into a fan and placed atop clear water glasses and calm, elegant music fills the restaurant.

“People will say, ‘How you can say if it’s gourmet or not?’,” Parisi said. “Well, if you just walk around the kitchen and look at the kind of equipment they have there. If there’s a deep fryer and a microwave, then there’s no gourmet food there. So, some people say, they had something authentic Italian, gourmet French, I laugh. But the people, I know, are being deceived. That’s not good. Plus, besides fine dining is not white table cloth. Fine dining is quality, flavor and presentation. When you see food piled one on top of another one, it’s not classical, it’s not gourmet. Gourmet is displayed nicely on the plate.

“Everything is made fresh daily,” Parisi said. “You cannot prepare anything this kind of food the way I cook. Sometimes they say, ‘Wow, you not even have had plate.’ Sometimes all the food is not boiling hot. but gourmet food is not supposed to be not too cold but not too hot. It’s supposed to be hot, but not too hot.”

The restaurant offers the finest quality foods, which must meet Parisi’s strict requirements. For example, Parisi said the veal he uses is used in only three other restaurants in Illinois: LaFrance, DeMarco and Roberto’s in Chicago. Additionally, as he said of his Mediterranean lobster: “It’s a real firm meat, it’s not flaky. It’s beautiful … it’s the best.”

Parisi said his earliest memories of cooking always included his mother, who still lives in Italy with the rest of his family.

“My mama, she was and still is very great cook,” Parisi said. “They not let me cook over there. Over there, I do dishes. They are good cook. Everybody over there cook. See, over there, that’s how it is. The mother teaches the daughter, so it goes from generation to generation. So my mother teach my sister, my sister teach her daughter.”

Parisi said many of his friends encouraged him to open his restaurant in Chicago instead of Rockford. Yet, he said he wanted to cook for “his people” instead of those in the city.

“Rockford, they don’t understand what you’re doing,” Parisi said. “But, I believe, sooner or later, people are going to realize, and we’re going to be packed every night.

“It’s real, authentic gourmet food,” Parisi said. “Experience a romantic night. I think everybody should at least one time come in and try and to be a regular consumer and support us because this is the only place in Rockford like it … it’s unique. And I don’t care what people say. If you are going to eat out, that’s one thing, but if you are going out for pleasure, there is no other place.”

Parisi said he has received a few offers to do a television show. Yet, he said, he wouldn’t consider such a venture for at least another 10 years because it would mean he would either have to sell or close his restaurant. “I don’t plan to give up in the restaurant business,” Parisi said. “That’s my life.”

“Something’s just natural in me,” Parisi said. “I see somebody doing something, I can do exactly the same. If you are eating in a restaurant, and I look at what you eat, I can look, and I know what’s in it and I can make it exactly the same.”

Parisi’s Ristorante is open 4:30-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 4:30-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sundays. Call 633-4899 or fax 633-6155 for reservations.

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