Restaurant offers fresh take on Italian cuisine
If Sami Demi wanted, he could serve ordinary Italian food people would still like.
"I am from Europe. I speak [several] languages. I could make something—it would be yummy and people would like it," he said. "But I don't want to do that. I want people to love my food."
Demi, co-owner of Milano Cafe, takes pride in making dishes in ways people have never tasted before.
While many Italian restaurants stick to northern Italian cuisine, Demi digs into the central and southern regional cuisines of Calabria, Umbria, Sardinia and Sicily.
One dish, a variation on lasagna in which Demi replaces pasta with lightly baked eggplant, may take hours to make seven or eight servings.
Diners are welcome to order a favorite dish or something unusual that is not on the menu, chef Bradford Miller said.
One of the restaurant's signature dishes is the Tortellini Piemontesa ($17), which combines pasta, shrimp, pesto, mint and fresh berries. Demi explained that it is an old family recipe created from foods that were available during a drought in 1836.
Arbreshe pizza ($10) and butternut squash ravioli ($16) are popular, Miller said.
The restaurant is busy on evenings and weekends, he said.
"I have yet to have someone send a dish back and say they didn't like the food," Miller said. "Sometimes the orders may get mixed up and the wrong dish is given to the wrong diner.
"[In other restaurants], if someone says, 'Hey, I didn't order this,' you have to take it back and remake it," he continued. "Here, as soon as the plate hits the table, they say, 'No problem.'
"They want to eat it, and then they pay for that dish. I've never seen that happen anywhere else."
- Risotto primavera—Italian rice, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, peas ($13)
- Drunken linguini—Linguini cooked in red wine with chicken, capers, mushrooms, roasted peppers and kalamata olives in a wine cream sauce ($15)
- Chicken bianco—Artichoke and mushrooms in a lemon garlic wine sauce ($15)
- Artichoke ravioli primavera—Artichoke ravioli, artichokes, green beans and peas in garlic and oil ($17)
- Alfredo—Roasted chicken and mozzarella cheese ($8)
- Marguerita—Tomatoes, basil, mozzarella ($9)
- Prosciutto—Includes mozzarella cheese ($9)
- Spinach—Includes ricotta and mushrooms ($9)
- Vegetable—Pesto, peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, feta cheese ($9)
- Albanezze—Albaneze sausage, mozzarella, feta cheese ($10)
- Arbreshe—Prosciutto, albaneze sausage, roasted beef, feta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan with tomato sauce ($10)
The owner and the chef
Sami Demi opened his first restaurant in 1986 while he was a student in Istria, Croatia. His family had taught him how to cook.
Demi and his wife, Giki, opened the 46-seat Milano Cafe in 2009.
Chef Bradford Miller has been with Milano Cafe for roughly three years. He previously worked in French fine dining.
Miller said he is amazed by the cafe's volume of business. Demi said Milano may serve 150–200 people on a busy day.
Milano Cafe, 4601 Southwest Parkway, 512-428-6076, www.milanoaustin.com, Mon.–Thu. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., closed Sunday