It’s the hand-stretched mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, the Kaputo flour, the temperature of the fire,” says chef Kevin DiLibero, who waxes poetic about the ingredients and cooking methods of his Neapolitan pizza. DiLibero is the culinary arts director for the Newport Restaurant Group, which recently opened Papa Razzi Metro, a rebranding of the 25-year-old classic Italian restaurant.
With a nod toward a more casual Italian family-style dining experience and an emphasis on local, house-made cuisine, the restaurant got a complete make-over by famed interior designer Peter Niemitz. Cushy fire engine red banquettes; an open kitchen with a glowing red tiled pizza oven; a salumi bar stocked with bresaola (an air-dried lean beef), mortadella, speck, and prosciutto di Parma; and a lively bar and cocktail lounge—which serves house-made Italian sodas in cherry, raspberry, and fig flavors along with craft cocktails and Italian wines by the glass—are all part of the new Papa Razzi experience. A newcomer to the throngs of eateries in the area, Metro stands apart with its playful, welcoming atmosphere—and excellent dishes.
DiLibero grew up in a large Italian household in Rhode Island where food was at the center of everything. He saw at an early age what home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients did for people and how food made them feel—happy and satiated. His love of cooking for others led him to the Florida Culinary Institute to study under his mentor, Capri native Raffaele Santrapaia, who focused on scratch cooking. Upon graduation, DiLibero continued on his culinary journey, taking an executive chef position at Pane e Vino Ristorante in the Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill, where he met his wife. From there he landed at the Newport Restaurant Group, where he could flex his culinary muscles.
When charged with revamping the menu at Papa Razzi, he wanted to make it a truly authentic dining experience—including the pizza. His quest for the perfect pizza led him to Los Angeles, California, where he trained with Vera Pizza Napoletana Americas, the American delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, earning a certificate in Neapolitan-style pizza making. His certification is one of only a handful of certified Neapolitan pizza restaurants in Massachusetts. The pizza cooks in just over a minute in a wood-burning pizza oven—from Italy, of course—that is heated to 950 degrees Fahrenheit. The mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and exquisitely cooked crust tantalize the tastebuds. It is without a doubt one of the tastiest slices I’ve had stateside. Not only is the pizza made from scratch, but also all the soups, ricotta, tortellini, orecchiette, salsiccia, focaccia, sauces, and desserts are house-made.
On the dolci side of the kitchen, pastry chef Matt Petersen is in command. Petersen grew up in Dublin, Pennsylvania, and had a penchant for baking. His grandmother baked wedding cakes and his mother was known for her pies. To stay out of trouble in high school, Petersen took a job at Dairy Queen, where he quickly rose through the ranks. Knowing he wanted to continue on the sweets path, he studied at Johnson & Wales in Providence, Rhode Island, majoring in pastry. He has baked in some of the top restaurants up and down the eastern seaboard, including the Mandarin Oriental’s Cities in Washington, D. C. He also apprenticed under Masaharu Morimoto, which quickly led him to a position at LaCroix, working with Philadelphia’s “Godfather” of French cuisine, Jean-Marie LaCroix.
It was there that Petersen learned to refine his style and technique. Petersen also had his moment of fame on Top Chef, where he came in second and was voted a fan favorite. When asked what he loves about pastry, he says without hesitation, “I love the science— cooking is different, you can adjust recipes by adding more or less of an ingredient, but with baking it needs to be exact to come out right.”
And come out right they do— with amaretto mascarpone mousse, genoise sponge cake, passion fruit jam tiramisu, and a lemon olive oil cake fit for Roman gods, Petersen elevates the dessert experience to heavenly heights. This dynamic chef team will definitely have you thinking “Be Italian” by the end of the meal. paparazzimetro.com