Rice Farmers Put Down Risotto Roots in the East Village

When New Yorkers think Italian fare, they typically think pasta or pizza—but one little restaurant in the East Village is looking to change that. Opened this spring by a Verona-based family of farmers, it’s got just about one thing on the menu: rice.

RisottoWhen New Yorkers think Italian fare, they typically think pasta or pizza—but one little restaurant in the East Village is looking to change that. Opened this spring by a Verona-based family of farmers, it’s got just about one thing on the menu: rice.

Gianmaria Melotti, who opened Risotteria Melotti on East Fifth Street, knows well that Italy is Europe’s leading rice producer, with harvests hailed as some of the finest in the world. That’s because his parents, Giuseppe and Rosetta Melotti, farm nearly 500 acres of rice on the Paduan plain, including Vialone Nano Veronese, the only variety in Europe to win I.G.P. certification, meaning that it meets strict beyond-organic criteria of soil and water and uses no chemical substances whatsoever.

They also own a restaurant in Isola della Scala, the heart of rice country south of Verona, famed city of Romeo and Juliet; Gianmaria came to New York to launch its American outpost. Like the farm, it’s a family affair: Gianmaria and his wife and children greet guests. Mr. Melotti’s cousin Davide Mantovani, an interior designer, flew in from Italy to give the risotteria a rustic, farm-like decor, right down to the bathroom sink that resembles a copper kettle.

The menu, of course, specializes in generations-old recipes for silky slow-cooked risotto, but also offers almost as many ways to eat his family’s prized rice as there are grains of the stuff in a sack, including beyond-risotto items such as rice-based (and gluten-free) breads and polenta, even cheeses, salamis and beer. Desserts include rice flour cookies and cakes as well as a frozen confection that closely resembles traditional gelato but is called, of course, rice cream.

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