Mary Whitfill / The Patriot Ledger
Jario Dominquez knows his restaurant isn't in Italy.
It's not nestled along the Italian Riviera or hidden in the rolling hills of Sicily, but he wants every plate he serves in his new Milton eatery to feel like it came straight from the motherland.
"When we started thinking about what to do in the space, Italian came to mind," Dominquez said. "My wife and I had been there and fell in love with simple Italian food, not too complicated. It's food your grandmother would cook, which is kind of how the name came to be. The idea is that it brings you home, to familiarity."
Madre Osteria & Bar opened in June and has already been through a touch of a reinvention. When it first started serving, it was 100% true to the Tuscan food that inspired Dominquez and his wife, Teodora Bakardzhieva, to start the restaurant in the first place. The couple quickly learned, however, that catering to some American tastes would be necessary to keep the business afloat.
"When we opened we wanted to serve only Italian wine and play only Italian music and serve only Tuscan food," General Manager Heath Landry said. "We've adapted a little, but we're trying to stay as true as we can."
Today, the menu boasts more American-Italian fare like meatballs and chicken Parmesan alongside trout, wild boar ragu and bistecca alla fiorentina (Italian steak). For dessert, options include lemon olive oil cake, panna cotta and several flavors of gelato.
"It's been well-received," Dominquez said. "People like the food, from what we can tell, and we're getting a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, which I love."
Head Chef Sam Curtis said he tries to stick to traditional Italian ingredients like onions and garlic as much as possible, but that he's willing to do whatever it takes to make a customer smile.
"It's like any restaurant now. You want to be as authentic as you can but you have to do that while still pleasing people," he said.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of a condominium complex facing the Neponset River and has an outdoor patio that opens to the water. The storefront has been a restaurant for years – it housed 88 Wharf from 2009 to 2018, when it was replaced by Prime Pizza – but Landry said they worked to make the space their own.
It's rustic and chic in a classic Tuscan way but also boasts modern touches like a marble bar top, funky wallpaper, and jazz music. Madre Osteria extended the existing bar top to add a lounge vibe to the traditional dining room.
"We are big on ambience; that's important to us," Landry said. "We are always messing with the lights, the music and we started to trend younger. The bar business is really picking up."
At the bar, the Pera'dise (pear vodka, spiced pear liquor, lemon and sparkling wine), the Bitter Lemon Collins and the Italiano Espresso Martini are the most popular beverages.
"We need to be a destination, and I think we're getting there," Landry said.