Dear Bon Vivants,

Are you wondering who came and conquered the Rio Grande Valley's fickle crowd? My faithful foodie fans, that would be Artemio Araujo and our Italiano from Naples, Chef Antonio Matarazzo, owners of Capellini Ristorante on Main Street.

I'm sure this doesn't surprise any of you - their place is always packed, especially late at night when ladies flock to visit with these two charismatic restaurateurs. It's almost like being in a Federico Fellini movie; they sit around a table with friends, drinking a glass of wine (after midnight) discussing dreams, fantasy and books. Now ... let me share what's new and cool in the world of food.

Mama Mia ANTONIO! This Neopolitan chef is brimming with vitality, turning out feasts with gusto. Capellini Ristorante was such a success in Reynosa, Mexico (10 years) ... they ended up opening another in McAllen. Their loyal Reynosa friends and foodies visit throughout the week - they can't get enough of his charming personality, ambiente Italiano and dishes of la cucina rustica.

He's also one of the few dedicated chefs in this area making fresh fine - textured pasta; light and always al dente. I'm so glad I introduced Chef Antonio to Carla Pierantozzi (Mexican/Italian) owner of "Verdemanzana," a local dessert table catering company. I figured it would be a good idea for these two architects and excellent pastry gurus to connect and share ideas. As you'd expect from the owners who respect the culinary wealth of their region new seasonal dishes were unveiled for true Italian food aficionados.

Let me be the first to high light Chef Antonio's "Ravioli Di Zucca" (Pumpkin Ravioli)! These are dreamy pillows that will melt in your mouth. This particular recipe originated in the city of Mantova, southeast of Lombardy (Lombardia); first references to it date back to the beginning of the X1 century. Ravioli Di Zucca is something locals from that region love, especially during this time of the year. The pumpkin ravioli takes its name from the stuffing, which is made of pumpkin pulp. Chef Antonio can request this ravioli with a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sage or a traditional hardy pomodoro sauce (Italian for tomato) topped with freshly grated parmesan.

Capellini Restaurant would never think of buying tasteless tomatoes from the supermarket - no, no ... they get canned "apples of love" exported from Arcona, Italy (Italy is the top exporter of "peeled tomatoes"). Yes, there's a huge difference in taste. The skin has a bright red color and is easily removable. The pulp is dense and only slightly sugary in flavor. This addictive dish pairs well with a fruity red wine like dolcetto, refosco, nero d'avola or a very simple chianti.

A few weeks ago Chef Antonio had the pleasure of having Marilena Barbera (sommelier for Cantine Barbera) at Capellini Ristorante for a degustazione. Antonio was in heaven! They paired new vintages straight from Sardinia and Sicily (perricone grape) with some of his carpaccio (Marilena, who travels all over the world and lives in Italy, said it was the best she ever had) and the Ravioli di Zucca.

Chef Antonio savored "La Dolce Vita" with each bite and glass of wine (vini bianchi, vini sicilian) with exquisite conversation. This was Cantine Barbera's (winery) 2011 USA Fall Tour - and Capellini's unforgettable dream.

I almost forgot! Don't miss sweets, Dolce! We praised the (over the top) Spuma (froth) Di Mascarpone con Frutti Di Bosco dessert which is Chef Antonio's creation. Imagine, if you will, an elegant martini glass with a cloud of whipped mascarpone cheese topped with fresh raspberrie frangiane and strawberries. The plate is decorated with a splatter of cinnamon fruit liquor -- used as a dip to capture the full taste of the mascarpone. Let's just say...the experience is pure delight.


Madame Gourmand

Capellini Ristorante, 701 N. Main Street, McAllen. 956-683-7999. Happy Hour 6-9 p.m. * Now open on Sundays (Bar only) - Pizza and Calzones are served while you watch sports!