My wife, Becky, and I faithfully watch a PBS cooking program which travels to different countries to create a full course feast (thus the show’s title “Moveable Feat”). It invites world-class chefs from the visited country to prepare their homeland specialties which they serve to guests fortunate to sit at their banquet.
Recently we were watching an episode where one of the delicacies was a fried squash blossom wrapped around an herb and cheese stuffing. We knew immediately it was a cuisine we had to try and put it on our Central Market list of unique items. Soon afterward Becky was reading a review of a new Dallas restaurant, 400 Gradi, and on the menu was Flori di Zucca, or a fried zucchini blossom wrapped around a wild cod mantecato. We went to 400 Gradi a week later and it was a feast that moved us.
The name 400 Gradi represents the temperature of the restaurant’s two imported pizza ovens in which they cook their Neapolitan-style pizzas for 90 seconds at 400 degrees Celsius which equates to about 750 degree Fahrenheit.
They offer more than 15 different pizzas, of which Becky ordered her favorite, Margarita with San Marzano Tomatoes, Flor Di Latte (a soft style of Italian Mozzarella cheese), basil and extra virgin olive oil. The Neapolitan method of cooking a pizza does not provide an extra-crispy crust, however, the flavors were to be savored.
All their pizzas and pastas are made from dough flown in from Italy and sourced artisan waters from springs that replicate the taste of water from Naples. So many of the restaurant’s ingredients from San Marzano tomatoes to olive oils are also imported from Italy to give diners extraordinary flavors not found in other Italian eateries. The freshness of everything we ate along with the aroma and multi layers of flavors makes 400 Gradi very special.
I had Linguine Alla Percatora, a combination of prawns, mussels, clams and scallops in a light, olive oil sauce fused with garlic and other spices. Never, even in Italy, have I ever had better spaghetti. The seafood was wonderful, but the pasta stole the show.
Becky and I shared the Flori di Zucca. It was fried in a gentle batter and the whipped salt cod filling melted in your mouth. We will return and the amazing zucchini blossom will always be our first course.
Two other specialties made our visit noteworthy, but they weren’t on the menu. If you go to 400 Gradi, ask for Raul to be your waiter and hope that Vianei is the manager. Both were delightful, the type who are attentive without invading our conversation or space. Raul was a big help in selecting our wine and dinner items. And when Vianei came to our table to welcome us to 400 Gradi she treated us like we were the only diners in the restaurant.
The restaurant is located at the corner of Ross and Harwood, thus it is in the middle of high rise office buildings which jam all downtown restaurants at lunch time. It is only a few short blocks from both the Dallas Museum of Art, the Meyerson and other entertainment venues which means on nights of performances, before and after shows, 400 Gradi will be packed. In addition, there are several churches nearby (First United Methodist Church is across the street) and Sunday afternoons and evenings are also full.
However, Vianei, the cordial on-site manager, told us Saturday afternoons (when we went) and Monday and Tuesday evenings are generally less crowded. Without question, you should always have reservations no matter when you go.
The prices are moderate, especially for the quality of food. Although 400 Gradi is named after the way its pizzas are baked, it had a very wide range of antipasti, pastas, fish, beef, veal and chicken dishes. Valet parking is free with a restaurant stamped ticket.
Not often can you find an ethnic restaurant that is so superior to other native cuisine as to have a distinctive difference. If you like Italian food that is fresh and flavorful with a staff which makes your experience memorable, visit 400 Gradi when you are in the Dallas area. Mama Mia it’s good.