Award-winning Cori Trattoria offers a taste of home from Sicily-born chef
Chef Accursio Lota’s 2-year-old North Park restaurant serves Italian food with a Southern California twist
In December, 2-year-old Cori Trattoria Pastificio was one of just 18 trattoria-bistros outside of Italy to win the highest honor in Gambero Rosso‘s annual ranking of the best Italian restaurants in the world.
That followed a Gambero Rosso honor last spring in the “New Opening of the Year” category, and it complements chef-owner Accursio Lota’s most prestigious career victory: champion of the 2017 Barilla World Pasta Competition in Parma.
Lota, 37, spent much of his early career cooking at five-star resorts in Sicily and California, followed by a six-year stint at the elegant Solare Ristorante at Liberty Station. But when he and his wife, Corinne Goria, chose to open their own place in 2020, they decided on a trattoria, a small, casual neighborhood restaurant that’s just 10 blocks from the North Park home they share with their sons Alessandro, 8, and Lorenzo, 5.
Cori’s name is a tribute to Corinne, a San Diego native who is a writer, editor and attorney who teaches international law. Cori also means “heart” in Lota’s native Sicilian dialect. Their restaurant, he says, serves dishes from his heart that blend Sicilian traditions with ingredients sourced almost exclusively from Southern California and Baja. The only Italian imports are a few cheeses, the ancient-grain flour he uses for his house-made pastas, and the wines procured from small regional winemakers.
Recently, we asked Lota to pick five dishes from the Cori Trattoria menu that reflect who he is as a Sicilian, an American citizen and a chef.
Lumache alla Siciliana
Before attending culinary school at 14 and moving to California in his early 20s, Lota grew up on a farm in the small agricultural village of Menfi, Sicily, where his family made their own olive oil, wine and ricotta cheese. By age 5, he would head into the fields after rain showers to collect huge bags of snails. The family farmed the snails in a basket under their staircase, feeding the creatures uncooked spaghetti and wild thyme to fatten them up and improve their smell. A couple times a year, the family would have a snail feast where they’d boil the mollusks, braise them in tomato sauce, dip them in a sauce made from extra virgin olive oil, mint and lemon juice, and slurp them right out of the shell. Lota’s version of the dish uses de-shelled French farm-raised snails that he braises for 40 minutes in a plum tomato sauce, shallots and thyme, then drizzles them with the same minty sauce. He adds a snail shell to the plate in honor of his family’s feasts.
Prosciutto di Tonno
Menfi has a 2,000-year tradition where its fishermen catch tuna during a two-week peak season and then cure it in salt for year-round consumption. Lota’s version of the dish uses the loin from locally caught bigeye tuna that he cures for 10 days in salt, pepper, bay leaf and caper berries. He slices the fish thin, prosciutto-style, and serves it with a creamy garnish of cauliflower-persimmon puree, preserved caper berries, arugula and sweet red onions. The garnishes, like most of the menu at Cori, change seasonally.
Fritelle Cacio e Pepe
This top-selling appetizer honors the tradition of Sicilian street food that’s meant to be eaten with your hands. It’s a fresh take on cacio e pepe, a popular dish with just three ingredients: pepper, pasta and Pecorino cheese. Instead of pasta, Lota makes beignet-like doughnuts that he fills with whipped warm Pecorino foam. The fresh-baked beignets are served stacked in a tower with a topping of more Pecorino foam and fresh-ground pipli long pepper, which is less spicy and more aromatic than black pepper.
Minestra di Mare
Lota’s award-winning dish at the 2017 world pasta championship was a reimagined pasta carbonara that replaced the traditional egg with fish and uni eggs and the guanciale (cured pork) with seafood, topped off with the zest of green mandarin, a Sicilian citrus fruit. At Cori, this revised version of the dish — which changes every few months — features house-made, parsley-infused mezzi maccheroncini with a tomato-lobster broth, clams, calamari, shrimp, cherry tomatoes and citrus-infused olive oil.
Route di Ricotta alla Menfitana
This traditional dessert, a twist on cannoli, is made only in Menfi. Instead of the tubelike cannolo shell, Menfi bakers use a flower-shaped mold to fry two pastry shells that sandwich a filling of sheep ricotta cheese, pistachios, candied orange slices and bits of dark chocolate. Lota’s version uses just one pastry shell and a base of fresh prickly pear juice to lighten up the dish, give it more sweetness and add some color.
Cori Trattoria Pastificio
Address: 2977 Upas St., San Diego
Phone: (619) 573-6159
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