Food-o-File

El Gringo morphs into Molto, and chef Kristine Kittrell couldn't be happier

When Carlos Rivero hired chef Kristine Kittrell to be part of his restaurant team, he promised her that one of the restaurants he planned to open would be Italian. This month, he'll make good on that promise when El Gringo evolves into Molto (1917 Manor Rd., 391-9500), a casual Italian eatery with plenty of handmade pasta dishes and rustic Italian home cooking at affordable prices. Kittrell's desire to cook Italian food harkens back to her family's roots. Her grandfather Stortini emigrated to Sault St. Marie, Ontario, making Kittrell a second-generation Italian-Canadian whose culinary heritage remains close to her heart. "We didn't have taco shacks where I grew up; we had Italian family restaurants called spaghetti bowls, and that's what we're trying to re-create here," Kittrell explained to me last week. She's been working on the Molto menu for more than a year now and is very excited about sharing treasured family dishes with diners in her adopted hometown. (She married an American from Chicago in the Caribbean, and they settled in Austin 10 years ago.) "This is truly the most honest cooking I've ever done in my life; I can't wait to get started," she says. Here's how things are going to work: Some of the Molto menu items were being served on the covered patio early this week while designer Joel Mozersky finished working his magic reimagining the interior of the restaurant. Look for the transformation to be complete by this weekend, with Molto and Kittrell's heartfelt menu fully operational. The very popular Red House Lounge around the corner facing Poquito Street will now feature a more expanded menu of affordably priced appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches that were well loved at El Gringo. Sounds like a great deal all the way around… Speaking of Italian food crafted with love, Will Packwood, chef/owner of Cibo (918 Congress, 478-3663, www.ciborestaurant.com) is now concentrating his energy on evening presentations. Cibo boasts a new happy-hour bar menu available weekdays from 5 to 7pm, and the frequently changing dinner menu is offered from 5:30 to 10pm Monday through Thursday and 5:30-10:30pm on Friday and Saturday. The one exception is a new brunch reception offered the first Sunday of every month from 11am to 2pm. Reservations are suggested… The "gourmet backyard cuisine" at Jasper's (11506 Century Oaks Terrace #128 in the Domain, 834-4111) will now be complemented by live jazz on the patio in the evenings from such groups as the Pete Rodriguez Trio, the Angelo Lembesis Trio, and the Bruce Sanders Trio… I was pleased to hear that Tracy Claros' divine English Lemon Puddings, which were one of my favorite sweet bites of 2006, are a finalist for awards at the Fancy Food Show coming up July 8-10 in New York City. Look for Tracy's puddings every week at the Austin Farmers' Market Downtown on Saturday mornings, Whole Foods, Central Market, Royal Blue Grocery, P&K Grocery, Whip In, and Timpones Market… Never one to miss a movie-tie-in feasting opportunity, Alamo Drafthouse chef John Bullington designed a special kid-friendly menu for the Saturday morning debut of Ratatouille, the new animated film from Disney Pixar about a Parisian rat with dreams of becoming a great chef. It was great fun. The filmmakers did serious foodie research to make the restaurant settings and food authentic, checking out the kitchens and service in Michelin-starred Parisian restaurants and hiring renowned chef Thomas Keller as culinary consultant for the film. All the culinary expertise might be lost on kids, but this is a film that serious grownup foodies can take to heart.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

El Gringo, Kristine Kittrell, Molto, John Bullington, Will Packwood

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