Some of the best seafood in the world comes from the Amalfi coast: abutting the Tyrrhenian Sea, it's no surprise that its little pressed anchovies and lushly marinated lobster find their way into the pasta. But just a few miles up in the mountains is the small commune of Tramonti, a place that's never heard of all these things that you can do with fish and alfredo sauce. Its pleasures are ground instead, in its elevated earth: grain pressed and rolled into dunderi pasta, one of the world's oldest pasta recipes and a culinary precursor to this decade's grocery story store staple gnocchi. Its enriched soil also gave birth to fiascone tomatoes, a variety that eventually were cultivated to become the San Marzano tomatoes that powered the past century of Italian cuisine around the world. Other, more adventitious, curiosities have stayed inside the village ground for centuries: melanzane al cioccolato, a desert of fried eggplant, layered in the richest and darkest of chocolates.
It's an idiosyncratic culinary tradition, the kind of thing that exists in its particular organization for a few miles but is completely unheard in the nearest city. And now, its in New York. Luca Dombre, born into three generations of restauranteering in Tramonti himself, came to New York like many an émigré, wanting to express his culinary muscles where New York Times critics could find them; landing a top position in the kitchens at Mezzaluna, the Upper East Side trattoria that, per the Times, "set off a restaurant revolution in the United States and beyond." But Dombre wanted to launch his own revolution, one that brought the culinary tradition in which he grew up into the fray of Neapolitan and Florentine delicacies making the city's fashionable rounds.
"When you come here, we want you to feel like you're in our home," Dombre told me when I visited Tramonti, the pizzeria ristorante in the East Village that he runs with his cousin, Giovanni Tagliafierro. It's new, barely a few months old and, when I stopped by, they were still fighting for a liqueur license. But it's a place that already feels cozy, a nook on the side of a busy avenue, St. Marks Place, where drunks compete with gentrifiers for breathing space or morning brunch. Tramonti offers both: small tables that line up to the restaurant's large oven and an accommodating brunch menu.
But regular day customers will find a menu rich with offerings fresh from the steep hills of Domre's Italian home. A list of pizzas that Dombre calls "the untouchables"; the recipes have been handed down to him from his grandfather and he will adhere to them. Calzones made Tramonti style, pumped with hot soppressata and black pepper. But the real offerings come on the special menu, the kind you might be offered if you come by on the right day. There's the dunderi, of course: a rare specialty even in the culinary jackpot that is Manhattan. Backed in fiascone tomato sauce, expensively imported from the Amalfi coast. But the real specialty, trust me on this one, is the chocolate eggplant: rich like no cheesecake you've ever had and with a texture that's almost cakelike but not quite. It's heavy, it's chewy like the most delicious spongecake but heavy like five bricks of dark chocolate. Thank God it made it to New York.