Every little grain helps

NEWPORT BEACH — He's gone from one peninsula to another.

It just so happens that Domenico Maurici, owner of Il Farro, an Italian restaurant on the Balboa Peninsula, was born and reared in Calabria, Italy, the region that forms the "toe" of Italy's "boot."

For the past 17 years, Maurici, who grew up on a farm, has managed to make Il Farro succeed where other restaurants have closed around him.

And a lot of it, he said, has to do with a small grain called farro.

The grain has special qualities, he said. It forms the cornerstone of his kitchen's operation.

It's a great source of protein — so great that the Romans, he added, ate it on a daily basis. Maurici started importing the grain as soon as he opened his restaurant in 1993.

"There is no other grain like it in the world," said Maurici, whose menu is anchored by a section called "Il Farroto."

When cooked, the grain assumes the flavor and texture of risotto.

As a child growing up on a farm in the small village of Tropea, where his parents still live, Maurici would come across the grain in the fields. But he said he and his family never gave the grain much thought because they were too busy producing other crops and tending to the cattle.

But years later, while at culinary school just north of Milan, Maurici discovered the grain's popularity. So he decided to get into the business of importing it directly from Italy when he opened his restaurant in Balboa.

"What's great about the grain that I have is that it's organic," he said. "Not only is it incredibly delicious, but it's incredibly healthy."

And Maurici said the interest of feeding his customers healthful food is always foremost in his mind.

It's certainly a challenge, seeing as the American appetite often revolves around large portions of food — and processed food to boot, he said.

"I'd like to clarify one thing," Maurici said. "Italians don't eat pizza and pasta the way that Americans might think we do. For us, pizza is a rare night out, a special night. And we eat our pasta in small portions. It's the middle dish that often accompanies something else. It's never the main meal."

Maurici knows a lot about Italian customs and traditions, but his heart is in America.

He first came to California on vacation in 1986. He liked it so much that he decided to stay.

If you would like to meet Maurici, he is hosting a special Italian holiday wine dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The entire five-course meal, with an assortment of imported Italian wines, will be cost $55 per person.

For more information, call (949) 723-5711 or visit http://www.ilfarro.com.

If You Go

What: Five-course Italian holiday wine dinner

Who: Domenico Maurici

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Il Farro, 111 21st Place, Newport Beach

Cost: $55

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