Da Romano for half a century

50’th birthday for the restaurant in Viareggio. Yet the Franceschini family has never been in better shape. «Our secret...»

27-09-2016

Fifty years for one of the historic establishments in Italy’s fine dining scene, Da Romano in Viareggio. They turned fifty last April, we waited for the season to end to evaluate together one year and half a century, together with Romano and Roberto Franceschini, father and son, always up to date (in the photo with Franca, respectively wife and mother)

Photogallery

Fotogallery della nostra cena Da Romano, qualche giorno fa. Gli scatti sono di Tanio Liotta. Si inizia con qualche fritto: sogliolina di Viareggio, gamberetti di fondale, calamaretti e fiori di zucca farciti con scampi
Carpaccio di scampo, maionese di pesca, limone salato, uva bianca, germogli di carote selvatiche, pomodoro cotto a bassa temperatura
Altro sempreverde: sogliole, triglie, sugarello, sparnocchi, gambero rosso, scampo e cicale di mare con fagioli schiaccioni di Pietrasanta
Scampo e fagiolini su letto di pomodoro

In 1966 Luna 3 touches ground on our satellite, river Arno floods Florence, the first episode of Star Trek is broadcasted, the United States begin massive bombings on Northern Vietnam, Simon and Garfunkel launch Sounds of Silence, Ignis Varese wins the world’s basketball championship while England triumphs in the world football cup. In 1966 a very young Romano Franceschini, 22 at the time, opens with his wife Franca his small restaurant in Viareggio, which had welcomed him six years earlier. He came from a family of farmers in Montecarlo (Lucca) but moved to the city on the coast attracted by its boom, «La Bussola had become famous, Renato Carosone was singing there, then Peppino Di Capri, and then Mina». Golden years. He started to work in 1960 in a famous pizzeria-cake-shop. It was called Rizieri and it’s still running.

Baby calamari filled with vegetables and crustaceans: a super classic

Baby calamari filled with vegetables and crustaceans: a super classic

Today reaching the moon looks easy, river Arno appears calmer, Star Trek is regretted by fanatics – after six TV series (a seventh was announced) and thirteen films -, the war in Vietnam is an unhappy memory, Sounds of Silence is part of music’s history, Varese’s basketball team has seen better years, and the same goes for England as a football team. Da Romano is instead always there, incorruptible: a Michelin star since 1985, only interrupted twice (in 2001 and 2002), when the restaurant was completely renovated, though it kept to the same location, in a continuity that makes one compare the Franceschini family to the Moroni, that is to say Aimo and Nadia, who are also Tuscan but in Milan, and one can almost hear the words of their daughter Stefania in this recent interview: «We cannot move from Via Montecuccoli. Over the year a magic has arisen which we must not and cannot break, a sort of genius loci. We have clients who have been coming for 30, 40 years, we cannot move away from here because we’d lose the heritage of memories, a network of relations which is founded between these walls». The same applies to Via Giuseppe Mazzini 120, Viareggio.

This is not the only possible comparison: this story is completely founded on a family, where children follow their parents inheriting their experience and adding a touch of modernity: as with the Cerea who, it may be by chance, also celebrated their 50th birthday this year, a few weeks ago (read the article on the celebrations and the two episodes - here and here – of our exclusive interview). Thus 50 years for Da Romano, just like Da Vittorio, and then 20 for Norbert Niederkofler (read here), and 10 for Mauro Colagreco (read here)… Now cuisine is such a widespread success and sometimes seems dominated by a futile and fugacious frenzy, greatness means knowing how to last without losing touch with the times.

Romano Franceschini and his wife Franca Checchi with the young team: Andrea Papa, Elisa Cecchi, Imane Pisani and Marco Piatti

Romano Franceschini and his wife Franca Checchi with the young team: Andrea Papa, Elisa Cecchi, Imane Pisani and Marco Piatti

Da Romano looks great for its age and it’s the pulsating witness of a restaurant format that has often not succeeded elsewhere: it’s the story of one of those places in which the dominus was the patron, not the chef. Now that restaurants are called Cracco, Berton or Sabatelli, the warrantor is still host Romano, while since January in the kitchen – the kingdom of Franca, who now supervises – there’s Andrea Papa born in Potenza in 1990, previously at Gallia Palace in Punta Ala, Pisacco and Boscolo in Milan. He approached their offer, mostly founded on their classic dishes, with respect and dedication: «When we present new recipes, clients taste them and appreciate them. But then they also want what they’ve always found here», a sort of madeleines of taste which are in fact very current because they were conceived so as to last in time: «We have never made use of butter or sauces. We always focused on elegance and high quality raw materials», says Roberto Franceschini, born in 1969, the son of Romano, gran maître and sommelier (1,300 labels in the cellar) who works beside the father in the dining room.

“He works beside him”, we say, and not "substitutes him": because the father, born in 1943, is still very active, «I don’t sleep until 10, the early bird gets the worm. Every morning I visit the fishermen to get the best catch. Langoustines instead arrive in the evening. I still have fun this way».

At Da Romano you can still find the years of the excellent fish catch in Versilia, of good manners and of an elegantly looked after dining room, for instance with the historic and now impossible to find underplates by Richard Ginori, «the best ever». The summer season was a big success, the FranceschiniRomano, Franca, Roberto, his daughter Cristina… - are thrilled. So when they tell their story, there’s the pride of someone who’s managed to go on, not the nostalgia of those who look at a now faded past success: «When we first opened, a meal at the restaurant would cost 1,000 lire – the patron, as fit as ever, recalls – Already in 1967-68 we were working very well. In 1969 we won a culinary contest launched by newspaper Il Tirreno so the following year we were admitted to the Festival of seafood cuisine that was to take place on a boat in Venice. We met Gigi Veronelli, Luigi Carnacina…». It was the dawn of the real success.

Raw fish “fantasia”

Raw fish “fantasia”

The Franceschini never wanted to move too fast, to be avantgarde, «we included raw fish in the menu 15 years ago, because clients asked us. Before, there was no concept of raw fish, there was just the plateau royale of seafood. Our guests have always ordered simple dishes, with great raw materials: this simplicity of Franca’s created the continuity that meant our luck». It’s hard to argue with that, as we bite into the beautiful Baby calamari filled with vegetables and crustaceans one of the emblems of a timeless cuisine, always balanced and craveable.

Yet have the clients changed, over this time? «They haven’t, in the sense that today people in their 40’s or 50’s come who were already coming as children. Of course there weren’t so many widespread food allergies. And today they all ask for more lightness and pay more attention to seasonality». Franceschini’s cheerfulness, instead, is always the same: «My biggest satisfaction? Growing constantly. And seeing that people appreciate». Easy, isn’t it?

PS: we get one last episode worth telling from the press release celebrating the 50th anniversary: "In 1985, less than 20 years after opening, the first important acknowledgement arrives: a star from the Michelin Guide which they’re still keeping after 30 years. In those days, two people were dining in Via Mazzini: Carlo Petrini and Stefano Bonilli. At Da Romano – as later confirmed in an article by Petrini – the Arcigola manifesto was born, which later became on one side Slow Food and on the other Gambero Rosso".


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Photogallery

Fotogallery della nostra cena Da Romano, qualche giorno fa. Gli scatti sono di Tanio Liotta. Si inizia con qualche fritto: sogliolina di Viareggio, gamberetti di fondale, calamaretti e fiori di zucca farciti con scampi
Carpaccio di scampo, maionese di pesca, limone salato, uva bianca, germogli di carote selvatiche, pomodoro cotto a bassa temperatura
Altro sempreverde: sogliole, triglie, sugarello, sparnocchi, gambero rosso, scampo e cicale di mare con fagioli schiaccioni di Pietrasanta
Scampo e fagiolini su letto di pomodoro
Sogliola, pomodoro e rucola (il pomodoro è in molte consistenze: come maionese, come composta, poi crudo e confit)
Triglia impanata col panko, stracciatella di bufala, origano e battuto di melanzane
Calamaretti ripieni di verdure e crostacei
Linguine alle vongole 3.0 (la prima versione era una linguina classica, nella seconda la pasta cuoceva nell'acqua delle vongole, in questa l'acqua stessa viene montata a maionese con l'olio e poi c'è il prezzemolo in crema)
Risotto Acquerello con cicale, scampi, gamberi rossi, sparnocchi, polvere di crostacei e il suo ristretto
Ombrina di fondale e verdure
Finocchio, arance e biscotti alle mandorle
Fresco d'estate: pesca, melone, yogurt e karkadé