The Isabella restaurant, located in the Madrid neighborhood of Salamanca, seeks to emulate the style of Italian restaurants in São Paulo.
Presenting a restaurant like “Italian-Brazilian” can be extravagant, but it makes perfect sense. It is estimated that around 22 million Brazilians are direct descendants of Italian immigrants, representing 11% of the country’s population. And the percentage is much higher in states such as São Paulo, where pasta and pizza are present in the daily diet of the population.
As always happens that a gastronomic culture is integrated in a place that is not yours, it is mixed with local contributions, to give rise to new paradigms, as interesting as the Nikkei cuisine that Japanese immigrants developed in Peru or the one they practiced the Chinese in Japan, who gave the world dishes like ramen.
The Italians arrived massively in Brazil in the 19th century, and there they developed their own style of pasta and pizzas that we can now try in Isabella.
The restaurant owners, Valter Sembrana and Ana Navarro, have been living in Spain for five years, but they opened the restaurant just three months ago, a company that was not among their initial plans.
“We have not come to Spain to open a restaurant, we have come to Spain to be safe,” Sembrana acknowledges Direct to the Palate. “All my life I have been a computer scientist, I have never had a restaurant, but my wife is trained in hospitality, and she has worked on it, opening a restaurant was her dream.”
“Why a pizzeria? Because we haven’t found one in Madrid that we would like, ”explains the owner of Isabella. “In São Paulo, the pizzas are crunchier than the Neapolitans, they are not the same. At first, it was going to be just a pizzeria, but the place we found was so big that we decided to take advantage and do something else. That’s why we have pasta. ”
Luckily, because, in our opinion, Isabella’s pasta stands out well above her pizzas. Not that these are bad, much less, but the Brazilian style clashes a bit with what, at least the one who writes, considers a good pizza.
As Sembrana says, Brazilian pizzas differ in two fundamental aspects from Neapolitans. The Neapolitan pizza is roasted at 500º for one minute and the one served at Isabella at 380º for 3 minutes. This makes the dough more crunchy. But, in addition, Brazilian pizzas tend to go much more refilled. “The Neapolitan has a lot of tomatoes and few ingredients and ours has a lot of ingredients,” Sembrana confirms. “Same amount of tomato, but more mozzarella, more ingredients.”
On our visit, we tried the Portuguese pizza (€ 12), one of the most popular in Brazil, which has a boiled egg, cooked ham, onion, and black olives, in such a proportion that you can barely appreciate the pizza base. True, it is a different style, one that does not convince me, especially with the level of pizzerias that we have today in Madrid.
Much more interesting is Isabella’s bet on pasta dishes, which is prepared daily in the kitchen of the restaurant.
“We have the tonnarelli that are like the spaghetti but more squares and the pappardelle,” explains Sembrana. “We seek to make very Italian sauces, following the original recipe, but not others, we have put our touch.”
This is the case of gnocchi dorato (€ 13) –in the opening photo-, a magnificent dish, which, in addition, is its own creation. “Gnocchi is not typical in Brazil, it is in some places, but here we make them with Spanish product,” explains the owner. “We make a dough of potato and Manchego cheese, we cook them, they are browned in the pan and they take some fresh tomato, arugula, and salted ricotta.”
The result is magnificent, a tasty and very light dish that, in addition, costs only 13 euros, a figure in which all the kinds of pasta and pizzas of the restaurant move, which has a very good value for money: you can eat perfectly for 20 euros, something that in Madrid is almost a miracle.
Starters and desserts
In the letter, not very extensive, in addition to pasta and pizza, we find some other Italian-Brazilian specialty, such as raw meat (€ 9), an original Piedmont dish that, as Sembrana tells us, is present in all the letters of the Brazilian Italian restaurants.
“It’s not like a steak tartare, ” explains Isabella’s owner. “It’s minced meat, low loin of an old cow, seasoned with paprika oil, lemon, grated hazelnut, which are typical there, and cheese.”
The result, being a priori meat level, does not convince us, because the dish ends up tasting only paprika and does not contribute much.
We prefer dessert, a bonet – renamed “flan bonet” because, according to Sembrana, with its original name nobody asked for it – a Piedmontese specialty similar, certainly, to our egg flan, but made with cocoa, amareto biscuit and ron. It was delicious.
Apart from the pizzas, whose style does not convince us (and may never do), we see in Isabella a restaurant that must refine its proposal, but with interesting ideas, and some gnocchi that surely leads us to visit it again to Try other fresh pasta dishes.
When we return it is possible that we get a surprise because Sembrana’s idea is to continue working on the concept by incorporating a daily offer out of the menu, with seasonal dishes. “Having a concept of making products of the day, with a blackboard with what we have today,” concludes the owner.
We will see what the thing is.
What to order: the pizza is not bad, but for our taste, they are too overloaded recipes. The gnocchi was delicious.