Pan-Seared Branzino at Ristorante Cavour

The tart heirloom tomatoes gushed warm, juicy deliciousness over the flaky flesh of the branzino. The tenderly sautéed tomatoes were a great textural contrast to the crisply seared fish skin, both of which complemented the firmness of the fish. On the side was a shaved fennel salad simply garnished with pink Hawaiian sea salt. The simple ingredients were masterfully assembled by Executive Chef Renato De Pirro of Hotel Granduca's Ristorante Cavour.

This seemingly simple dish inspired by Northern Italian cuisine is one of the many new selections Chef De Pirro will be offering on his menu. De Pirro wants to provide a true Italian dining experience in the cozy Cavour, and to achieve this goal, he is importing most of his ingredients from Italy. An example of this is the branzino, or Mediterranean seabass, a fish native to the waters in and around Europe. When asked why he chose to offer this dish, he simply said, "This dish is the same as what you would find in Northern Italy."

Chef De Pirro is living the American Dream. Eleven years ago, he decided to come to the United States to pursue better career opportunities in Sin City. This was no easy decision, since it meant that once again, he would have to rise through the grueling ranks of the commercial kitchen. In Italy, he was already an executive chef for a large, high-volume restaurant. However, De Pirro easily climbed the kitchen ladder again, spending as few as two months at a station before being promoted. In Las Vegas, he was Executive Chef at the Bellagio's Osteria del Circo, Executive Chef at Red Rock's Terra Rosa, and Chef de Cuisine at the Venetian's Valentino. Luckily for us Houstonians, he decided to leave the Strip and focus his attention on providing an intimate dining experience true to his Italian heritage.

Chef De Pirro will demonstrate how to make gnocchi from scratch at this year's Houston Italian Expo, which returns May 21 through 23 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Italian Expo allows guests to experience all things authentically Italian. There will be more than 150 exhibitors from Italy and the U.S. in the areas of food, wine, fashion, interior design, tourism, art and entertainment. This family-friendly event will have food and wine tastings, fashion shows of Italian apparel and jewelry, exhibitions of luxury cars and motorbikes, and more. For more details, visit www.italianexpo.us.

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