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Portofino Cucina Italiana Opens at 5th and Main

By Pamela Rouse
Published: Monday, September 06, 2010, at 11:34AM
Insalata di Spinachi Arugola e Pesto Pamela Rouse [Flickr]

Insalata di Spinachi Arugola e Pesto: baby spinach, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and pinenuts tossed with pesto sauce and Parmesan cheese.

When Diego Ortoli came to the United States some eight years ago from Naples, he had a dream of opening his own restaurant.

Did you get here by following a URL in the September 16 issue of blogdowntown Weekly? We made a typo! Find the story on Vault XXI that you were looking for here.

That dream has come true a little quicker than he expected, and on one of Downtown's most interesting corners. On Friday morning, Ortoli opened the doors to Portofino Cucina Italiana, which takes over the space briefly occupied by Cafe Bermuda at 5th and Main.

As is often the case, nothing about opening the restaurant was easy. Ortoli, who had been working at Cafe Verona on Fairfax, happened upon the location on a Wednesday, and the owner encouraged him to come back the next night to see how "populated" the area was at night. It was only later that he found out the Art Walk night crowds didn't quite reflect a normal day at 5th and Main.

The restaurant was also presented as being move-in ready, but it turned out that the length of time the restaurant had been closed and changes made inside required new inspections. During construction he also discovered some of the more seedy aspects of 5th and Main as transients continued to occupy his patio and disturb the restaurant's planters.

Still, the experiences weren't enough to sour Ortoli on the corner. "I have a great feeling about this place," he says. "The place has grown on me."

Ortoli also credits Russell Brown and Brady Westwater of the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District for helping him navigate the renovation and opening process. "They gave me a lot of psychological support," he says. "Brady was the first one I met. I was going around the neighborhood to see if it was a good place to buy this place. He came and showed me the whole neighborhood."

"My biggest hope is that people will know I'm here," Ortoli says. He knows he is fortunate and that there are many with the dream of ownership who have spent years in the restaurant industry never to work for themselves.

Though he is not a chef, Ortoli has played a role in crafting the restaurant's offerings. "The bread is my recipe," he notes. "It took one year of work." He taught himself to make bread using the 1950s oven in his apartment, adjusting it again and again until he came out with a simple recipe.

Ortoli says that it is important to let the chef create his own recipes, but to keep in mind the neighborhood. While the items on his menu have the feel of high-end dining, he wanted the prices to reflect the community.

Offerings include a full assortment of salads, paninis, pastas, risottos, and appetizers, as well a wide selection of fresh meat and seafood inspired entrees. The restaurant also has a breakfast/brunch menu that includes several "American breakfasts." Everything is made fresh on site, including the bread that is served at the beginning of the meal: a toasted focaccia with tomato and olive oil.

Desserts including a fruit torte, cheesecake, and tiramasu are made fresh in the Portofino kitchen. The tortes are baked in the morning and prepared right before serving. He says his staff loves to cook and they are so excited to be open and to be finally serving customers.

Hours are still a work in progress, but expect the restaurant to be open by 9am during its soft opening, with closing times around 10pm daily. Breakfast will be served until noon, and later on Sundays.

A grand opening and delivery are planned.

Ortoli has a measured perspective on his new life as a restaurant owner.

"I just want to give you my best," he says. "If I succeed, maybe someone will say I'm lucky, but if I fail I can at least say I tried my best and I will not have any regrets."

Portofino Cucina Italiana / 464 S. Main / 213-239-9019


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