Daniel Berg knows that in New York, where he's from—the city that very much flows through both his and his brother, restaurateur Benjamin Berg's, veins—there is no such thing as Tex-Mex.
"But now I have Tex-Mex, and I love it," says Daniel Berg, partner and executive chef of B.B. Italia, Benjamin's newest concept (joining B&B Butcher's and B.B. Lemon), in the same space as the former Carmelo's in the Energy Corridor. But what does Tex-Mex food have to do with Italian food?
Well, says Berg—whose resume includes training in Italy, plus stints at Le Bernardin and Daniel, and Yves (a Tribeca spot that he still operates)—think about it: At their best, both cuisines are as good as comfort food gets. Recipes passed down from abuelas and nonnas are of highest currency. And both Tex-Mex and Italian thrive when the ingredients are local and the dishes are homemade. Asks Berg: You wouldn't want store-bought tortillas for your fajitas, so why would you want store-bought pasta?
So Daniel Berg makes all his pasta from scratch at B.B. Italia, and once you try it, you won't want it any other way. There's the bolognese—tagliatelle in a meaty veal ragù topped with a dollop of smooth ricotta—an insanely flavorful rigatoni dish thanks to a smoked-bacon vodka sauce, and a devilish ravioli stuffed with short rib. Carbonara and alfredo dishes are rich and creamy and would probably stop your day for a bit, if not your heart. All of these pasta dishes are available for lunch and dinner, come in big portions for reasonable prices (mostly $14-$16), and are highlights.
B.B. Italia also has pizza. In the restaurant you can get an eight-inch personal-style pie like The Tommy—sweet pepper, arugula, and thick-cut bacon, a Berg Hospitality Group staple—but at B.B. Pizza, which shares the space with B.B. Italia, you can get 12-inch and 16-inch pies, including New York-style offerings.
Back to dinner at B.B. Italia. In the chicken, fish, veal, beef, and pork entrées section, you'll find hefty plates like veal chop parmigana and 20-layer lasagna, and a few Southern twists, like blackened red fish and Italian fried chicken. Berg said it was a fun challenge staying true to Italian cooking while finding ways to incorporate the Texan and Southern experience. And how do you do that?
"In Italy, the best food is local," Berg says.
So he'll let the ingredients here guide him a bit. And we'll be following.