Il Palio: From Naples to North Carolina
Executive Chef Teddy Diggs is the mastermind behind North Carolina’s only AAA-rated Four Diamond Italian restaurant, Il Palio. Starting his career in the nation’s capital, Diggs has had ample experience in the culinary industry, always showcasing his immense passion for traditional Italian cuisine. Every summer, Chef Teddy travels to Italy to explore a different region, gaining new gastronomic insight and inspiration each time. Il Palio’s menu certainly tells the story of his travels—it explores the 20 regions of Italy, reinventing age-old recipes with new local and seasonal twists. Diggs has been at Il Palio for four years now, and continuously stuns guests and critics alike with his unbelievable ability to craft the most intricate dishes reminiscent of a trip to Italy.
I was fortunate enough to enjoy a four course meal consisting of Chef Teddy’s favorite dishes off the Il Palio menu, prepared by the Chef himself. I was enchanted by his ability to tell the story behind every ingredient and technique of each dish. First to hit the table was his freshly house-made focaccia. Inspired by the traditional Ligurian preparation, the bread was soaked in olive oil and topped with fresh rosemary and cracked sea salt. Chef Teddy termed the texture “birthday cake-like,” a deliciously accurate description.
The antipasto consisted of the chef’s roasted chestnut soup. Chef Teddy detailed the seasonality of the chestnuts and described the process behind the soup’s creation. A bowl of pancetta and celery root arrived at the table, and was followed by Chef Teddy pouring the warm chestnut broth over the garnishes. The soup was divine--the perfect creamy consistency coupled with melt-in-your-mouth pancetta.
Of course no Italian meal would be complete without pasta. Following the soup, we dined on Chef Teddy’s homemade pappardelle with Bolognese ragu. Chef Teddy makes his pasta fresh every morning, combining semolina flour and eggs to create the pappardelle. Every Italian grandmother has her own secret Bolognese recipe but there are a few classic staples to a ragu: a combination of veal, pork and beef, sofrito and white wine. Chef Teddy chops and adds a few pounds of celery and carrot and allows the ragu to cook for 12 hours to ensure the meat is as tender as possible. The ragu weaved throughout the perfectly al dente pasta layers and was dusted with crumbles of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Feeling like we were transported to a villa under the Tuscan sun, the pasta was definitely an ode to Italian grandmothers.
The secondi course arrived, featuring wood-grilled octopus atop a bed of local beans and pickled celery. The smoky octopus, proudly displaying its charred stripes, brimmed with flavor. Rustic herbs and a zest of chili pepper united with the tender variety of beans elevated the dish to another level.
Unable to imagine consuming more exquisite food, we were presented with not one, but two beautifully-plated desserts. The first plate starred a dangerously addicting and moist Naples-style Baba Rum Cake. The small yeast cake was soaked in rum, topped with an apple cider gelato and honey crisps and featured a garnish of soaked raisins, edible flowers and lemon zest.
On the second plate, five different gelati fought for the spotlight. Atop the base of cookie crumbs, chocolate and edible flowers sat mint, chocolate, hazelnut, eggnog and turrone gelato. Every single flavor was outstanding, but the mint shone through as my favorite. Earthy, refreshing tones derived from real mint leaves differentiated the gelato from every other mint ice cream I’ve ever tried.
I was completely blown away by each and every course. Chef Teddy approaches cooking in a profoundly unique way and his inspiration gleaned from multiple trips to Italy is ever so clear in his style. His passion for food and the stories behind it is genuinely infectious, and I highly recommend a trip to Il Palio the next time you’re in the Chapel Hill area
Special thanks to Tabletop Media for the delicious complimentary meal. These reviews are entirely honest and my own.
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