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Pasta-Making Makes the Grade at Volturno Framingham

Five years ago, Greg Califano Jr. interviewed me for my first restaurant job. I was looking to pay off my college loans and I made the mistake of thinking that working for him at Volturno was the sort of thing one “does on the side” for a bit of extra cash. At the time, I didn’t realize that the service industry is something you quite literally eat, sleep, and breathe. I didn’t get the job.

I should note that I did go on to spend four invaluable years learning about hospitality from a different set of rockstar restaurateurs who took a chance on my naivete, but the interview with Califano taught me something. He was my first introduction to a passionate network of curious chefs thriving right under my nose.

Our interview had extended far too long for a candidate who, quite frankly, never stood a chance of landing the job. I had pressed Califano to relive every detail of rehabbing the old Buick dealership where Volturno took up residence. I wanted to hear what it was like to eat pizza in Naples and to feed wood into a 900-degree oven.

I knew it was time to leave when Califano finally said, “Okay, who’s interviewing who here?”

This week, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when I arrived for a pasta making workshop at Volturno’s new outpost in Framingham to find the venerable owner would be teaching our class himself. Califano’s enthusiasm had not waned since he opened Volturno in 2013; if anything, I found that it had vaulted to entirely new heights.

Owner Greg Califano leads Volturno of Framingham’s latest pasta making class.

He called us over to a long wooden table and balled up a lump of canary yellow dough in his hands before shaping it into a map of Italy to point out Bologna – the city where he worked for free, learning to make pasta in little restaurants without signs on their front doors. Califano launched into his craft like a maestro, captivating the crowd, noodles flying through the air.

There were a few things he thought we should know as recreational pasta makers. First, using too much flour only leads to disaster; egg-based pasta like Garganelli begs for a lattice of gluten structured by careful folds in the dough. Second, your water should taste like the sea, and at home, it doesn’t hurt to throw a hand full of semolina into the boiling pot. Finally, there are specific sauces for specific pasta shapes. Make no mistake about it.

“In Italy, sauce doesn’t exist. It’s considered a condiment,” Califano explained, “The star of the show is the pasta.”

After his animated demonstration, Califano sent us back to our tables to practice rolling out the dough and cutting flat squares that we wrapped on sticks and nudged over wooden ridges, resulting in flawless tubes of Garganelli.

Luckily, Califano did the rest of the cooking for us. Our glasses remained inexplicably full throughout the evening. (That must be why they call it “Super” Tuscan.) And plates of polpette and arancini appeared family style, along with a sweet gem salad dolled out in exquisite ceramic dishes. True to his word, the Garganelli was indeed the star of Califano’s show.

Califano’s standards have remained unwavering in Worcester and the same holds true of his Framingham location. The new restaurant maintains the rustic charm of its counterpart, offering the added intimacy of a smaller space. Guests still have a view of the wood-burning oven, and the 2 for 1 deal on Mondays and Tuesdays is graciously honored in Framingham as it is in Worcester. Pasta classes are offered monthly at each location and no two are ever the same.

I’d like to think that Califano had me pegged as more of an observer than a participant from the beginning. Maybe he knew I’d be a food writer before I did. Nevertheless, it felt good to get in on the action and finally make something of myself at Volturno. The proof is in the Garganelli.

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Volturno: The Framingham Edition

Appetizer Volturno in Framingham, MA

Growing up near Worcester, I always felt spoiled that great Italian food was just around the corner where quality Italian fare quite literally lined Shrewsbury Street. Since I have moved to the MetroWest area, I find myself longing for the integrity of those Italian restaurants I could frequent in my youth, effectively avoiding long trips to the North End in Boston. Finally, my request has been answered. Volturno of Shrewsbury Street in Worcester has opened a second location in Framingham.

Tagliatelle from Volturno in Framingham, MA
Tagliatelle from Volturno in Framingham, MA

The high water mark of any restaurant is the ability to meet expectations of all patrons, while at the same time enhancing their particular experience. By this, I mean, that if you are anticipating a nice date night, you get it. Or, if you are looking for a family night out, that can happen as well in the very same location. Volturno has created an environment that allows this to take place by design. The bar occupies a large portion of the rear of the restaurant, but not in a manner that distracts from the dining room’s vibe. Although the bar is not a separate space, it provides a vastly different experience. The same holds true in other areas of the restaurant.

Possibly the most important element of your experience is the manner in which your senses are engaged. First, as you walk toward the restaurant from the parking lot, it is impossible to ignore the smell of burning wood from the wood-fired stove. Upon entry, the smell of fresh pizza and pasta sauce is overwhelming and a rush of activity can be sensed from the sound of servers taking orders, bartenders vigorously shaking drinks at the bar, and cutlery making contact with porcelain plates. Volturno is truly a cacophony of culinary sights and sounds.

Pistachio pizza from Volturno in Framingham, MA
Pistachio pizza from Volturno in Framingham, MA

Although a quality dining experience requires multiple sensory inputs, the most important aspect is the character of the food. Now, in all fairness, when I think about Italian food, I think of my grandmother’s meatballs and sauce. Nothing fancy. The food at Volturno was well prepared. That said, there were elements of the meal that proved more traditionally executed, such as the arancini appetizer, and the house-made tagliatelle with grass-fed beef, veal, and buffalo. Our order also included the pistachio pizza, with Berkshire sausage and pistachio pesto. The crust was chewy and kissed by smoke from the wood-fired oven, but assembled a combination of ingredients I wasn’t expecting. An unconventional bruschetta was served with tomato, capers, shallots, green olives, mozzarella and marinated pepper. This dish was not something I would order again, but not because it wasn’t well prepared, rather, the saltiness of the capers and olives proved a bit off-putting to my specific palate.

Overall, Volturno lived up to its reputation, and I hope it marks the beginning of a growing list of new quality restaurants in the Metrowest area. Located right off of Rt. 9, on Edgell Road in Framingham. Volturno seems to have primed itself for success with a combination of old and new world cooking style, and I look forward to many future visits.