Savory Sicilian cuisine on State Street
It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Even though life was already hectic for Alberto and Elaine Morello as owners of the popular Olio e Limone Ristorante, Olio Bottega and Olio Pizzeria on West Victoria Street, they couldn’t resist becoming operators of a new restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara.
Bedda Mia, which opened Feb. 24 next to The Granada on State Street, offers the “full Sicilian experience,” said Mr. Morello, a native of Sicily and executive chef. His wife is director of operations.
“Bedda Mia is used by Sicilians as a term of endearment toward a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, but it also refers to Sicily itself,” Mr. Morello told the News-Press. “Bedda Mia the restaurant is an ode to our beloved Sicilia.”
The couple were asked to take over operation of the eatery by Mr. Morello’s longtime friend, Romolo de Paoli, owner of an olive farm in Paso Robles.
“I’ve known Romolo for 23 years. He fell in love with Sicily and wanted to do a Sicilian restaurant but didn’t have time to do it himself,” said Mr. Morello, who grew up in rural Italy in a family that enjoyed good food.
“It’s in our DNA,” he said.
At the age of 22, Mr. Morello immigrated to Woodland Hills, and in 1999, he and his wife, whom he met while working at a restaurant in Beverly Hills, came to Santa Barbara and opened Olio e Limone Ristorante. The couple have a son, Alessio, 24.
“Although we’ve always had touches of Sicily throughout our menus and specials at the Olios, the cuisine at Bedda Mia is strictly Sicilian with an emphasis on seafood, fresh produced-based dishes, artisanal Sicilian dolci and Sicilian wines,” said Mr. Morello.
“Over the years, Sicily has been occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Moors, Normans and Spanish. All these influences are still evident in the food today. The Greeks brought grapes and olives and introduced the resident population to winemaking. The Romans then brought fava beans, chickpeas, lentils and varieties of pasta.
“Arabs brought almonds, aniseed, apricots, artichokes, cinnamon, oranges, pistachio, pomegranates, saffron, sesame, spinach, sugarcane, watermelon and rice,” Mr. Morello continued. “They expanded the island’s palette with flavor combinations that are now considered typically Sicilian, such as the sweet and sour mix of raisins and pine nuts that can be found in many favorite Sicilian dishes”
Among the items on Bedda Mia’s menu are Sogliolette in Agroduci (sand dab filets with sweet-sour onions), sea urchin pasta, fava bean soup, ravioli made with sheep ricotta and pecorino cheese in a lamb consomme and a lamb chop made Sicilian style, breaded with pecorino cheese.
Desserts include Cassata Siciliana, the queen of Sicilian pastry; almond pudding; classic cannoli and a seven-layer chocolate hazelnut mousse cake that is called Torta Setteveli
“Setteveli means seven veils in Italian,” said Mr. Morello. “Sicilian sweets are some of the most popular in all of Italy, and this one is definitely the most popular and most decadent. The cake of the seven veils is named after the dance of the same name. Each layer is creamy and rich but also light as one of the veils in Salome’s dance.”
The chef pointed out that vegetables are prominent in Sicilian cuisine “because the people were poor and had to make do with what they could grow in the fields. Now this poor people’s food is being served in fancy restaurants. Go figure,” said Mr. Morello with a chuckle.