Out of the Clear: Blue!
It was last Monday at lunch time that my husband and I noticed a new restaurant sign next door to Jibarra, in the Depot area of Raleigh’s downtown Warehouse District. Finding the doors to Jibarra locked, we walked down the porch to explore what might be waiting behind the enigmatic, but enticing sign, Blue.
There we found not just a new restaurant, but people who seemed immediately like old friends. The first question we asked Maurizio Privilegi and his wife, Patrizia was why Blue? And their answer intrigued us. “Blue,” they both chimed in, “It can be Italian. It can be French. It can be American…” Both are self-described “persons of the world”, yet the feel of the food is distinctly Mediterranean, reflecting Maurizio’s boyhood watching his mother do her magic with sauces and seasonal fare. In fact, for lunch my husband and I both indulged in lasagna made with Bechamel sauce, the way Maurizio’s mother always made it in her Tuscan kitchen.
Many of you may recognize Maurizio’s name, since he was the chef for Caffe Luna since its inception in 1996. His stories ranging from how Raleigh has changed in the past fourteen years, to sharing his dreams for his new restaurant made for memorable conversation.
Donna: What attracted you to The Depot area?
Maurizio: We liked the relaxed feeling here. We imagined people coming by after work or at lunch time and not having to worry about parking. They can stay and enjoy their meal. Both Patrizia and Maurizio spoke of having “a relationship with meals”, meaning really tasting the food and savoring the experience. It’s part of a good life!
Donna: How is Blue similar to Caffe Luna, and what sets it apart from the strategy that made Caffe Luna such a success?
Maurizio: I’ll be fixing my mother’s specialties like lasagna made with Bechamel sauce, and pasta tossed with huge shrimp. Pasta with seafood is one of my specialties.
Our menu is smaller than Caffe Luna’s to give us the opportunity to produce the best quality of the Mediterranean diet, whether it’s Italian, French, Spanish, Greek or even Egyptian.
I look for the freshest seasonal ingredients for the best deals, so I can keep my prices reasonable. My lunches are from $8 – $10 and dinners maybe $12 – $15. Some things might cost a little more, based on what I can find that looks good.
I go to the Chinese supermarket on South Saunders Street to find the freshest fish possible. They’re swimming in a tank when I pick them out.
You need to come to dinner on Friday. I’m getting razor blade clams. In Italy, we call them “cannlicchi”. No one else has them. (To collect them, you poke your stick down in the sand and they close their shells around it. When you pull your stick out, there they are, hanging on.)
Donna: What originally brought you to Raleigh?
Maurizio: I started in Fayetteville where I joined some people from New York to open a restaurant, and gradually I created a life in North Carolina. In 1996, Parker Kennedy asked me to be the chef at Caffe Luna. He asked me to stay and I did until last year, when I left to start my own restaurant.
Many things changed in Raleigh during that time. When Caffe Luna opened there was only a handful of restaurants downtown, including Greenshields in City Market. I have to give Parker Kennedy lots of credit. In those days, there were many vagrants. We called the police two or three times a day, but Parker worked hard to pass ordinances so that businesses could attract customers without them being constantly approached by panhandlers.
Donna: What inspired you to become a chef?
Maurizio: It was a natural thing. My brother, like me, learned from our mother, who one day fixed rabbit, the next day lamb, then ragu… My brother has run one of the best restaurants in Long Island for the past twenty years.
Our mother was the master of masters. We were always interested in what she was doing in the kitchen.
Donna: Patrizia (from Columbia) mentioned to us that she saw herself as a citizen of the world, and when you told us your thoughts behind the name of your restaurant, you reflected that same theme. What led you to this cross cultural identity?
Maurizio: I used to work for an oil company as a mechanical engineer. For eight years I traveled the world from Kuwait to Denmark, to Bombay. That gave me the pleasure of being a person of the world.
Each country had their specialties, and I tried them all. I met my undoing in the spicy shrimp they served in India. I asked myself, If they can eat it, why can’t I?
Donna: I’m admiring all the gorgeous pictures on your walls, depicting wondrous settings in Italy. When you retire, which one of these places will claim you?
Maurizio: Cinque Terre? No, no, Sienna! The food! The wine! The good, healthy living of the countryside. Fresh everything! The panorama is so relaxing…
I close my notebook feeling happy, like I’ve been on a vacation.
Eating at Blue is like a quick trip to Tuscany. Here, you can relax. The price is reasonable. The food is what you’d eat at a family table somewhere in the Mediterranean.
And you might make some new friends in Maurizio and Patrizia.
Drop by and say Hello.
Check out their menu on their website. www.bluerestaurant.net