Chef Erik Pettersen is a man on a mission. His goal is to recreate the culinary heritage of his Sicilian parents and grandparents, and he is succeeding beyond anyone’s expectations.
His restaurant, Evo (short for “evolution”), moved to the Tequesta Fashion Mall in the fall after five years in another location. The new venue allowed him to expand his seating capacity and obtain a full liquor license. The main dining room is warmly decorated in tones of red and gold and looks out to a garden highlighted by a gazebo and outdoor tables. Near the entrance are a popular bar and an auxiliary room that can be used for private parties. The overall feeling is one of elegance, comfort and style.
Pettersen is a fourth-generation chef, and red sauce runs deep in his DNA. An appetizer of eggplant rollatini ($14) redefines the dish: The eggplant is gently fried, as promised on the menu, while the filling of whipped ricotta and pecorino Romano is feather-light, and the San Marzano tomatoes are bright and tart. A starter of gamberetto oreganata ($18) is equally impressive. Tender U-6 jumbo shrimp are butterflied and sautéed, topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and served in a sauce of white wine, lemon, butter and fresh garlic (this is one chef who doesn’t skimp on garlic).
To find out how good Southern Italian cooking can get, order the meat platter ($34), which will transport you to a Sicilian home on a Sunday afternoon. Meatballs are light and fluffy, sweet sausage is studded with pieces of fennel and veal braciole is meltingly tender. Dressed with more of those remarkable San Marzano tomatoes, the dish is served over al dente half-rigatoni. At the other end of the spectrum, a daily special of hog snapper ($35) gets a distinctly Northern treatment, sautéed alla francese and set atop a mound of spinach. The delicate treatment contrasts nicely with the rich, intense flavor of the fish.
Pasta entrees consist of classics such as linguine alla vongole, bucatini carbonara and a painstaking Bolognese sauce made from veal, pork and beef. In the unlikely event you should have room for them, desserts are traditional as well: lemon ricotta cheesecake, tiramisu, chocolate brownies and assorted gelati.
The wine list comprises nearly 200 bottles, weighted toward Italy (as it should be) with a healthy representation from California. Prices are reasonable, and there are even some affordable Super Tuscans on the list. Wines by the glass are interesting, including Borgo Conventi Pinot Grigio ($9) and Prunotto Arneis ($11). The glass selections are customized to fit the evening’s specials, and unusual reds such as Tormaresca Neprica or a Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso are likely to appear.
Service is delightful, beginning with the friendly greeting at the door and continuing throughout dinner. The servers are cheerful, helpful and walking advertisements for Pettersen’s repertoire and methods. They are well-informed on the preparation of the dishes and offer recommendations to first-time diners.
Evo is an intriguing dining experience, a well-executed effort to transform Southern Italian cuisine from a cliché to an art form. Not surprisingly, it is extremely popular with locals, and reservations are strongly advised. Whether a newcomer or regular, you’ll be treated with the same warmth and partake of some singular, flavorful food.
WHERE: 150 N. U.S. Hwy. 1, Tequesta (561-745-2444; evoitalian.com)
OPEN: Dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to close
FOOD: Southern Italian with modern touches
ATMOSPHERE: Elegant and comfortable
SERVICE: Warm and helpful
DRESS : Upsc ale casual