On the Line: Vince Crivello of Ristorante Rumari

While I welcome suggestions for On the Line subjects, it's not too often I actually receive them. So when Ristorante Rumari reached out with their story, it caught my attention. Keeping Laguna Beach locals satiated for close to 30 years, Vince Crivello gave some insight on how things came to be.

Why do you think Ristorante Rumari has lasted for so long?
I think the number one point is the quality of the service and the food that we have been serving for almost 28 years. Also, consistency is how we have kept the same clientele. We are able to make the same dishes over and over again, but the taste and quality never diminish. We have customers who move away, then return and order the same dish. They comment on how it has not changed through the years, unlike many restaurants who change ingredients based on market availability and prices. And we have the same servers working for us for 15-20 years. Same servers, cooks and bartender. It's quality and consistency. That's it.

What is your beverage of choice?
I wish I could say the Abacus every night, but unfortunately, it's out of my budget. I like to drink a beer with my meals, but my beverage of choice is definitely espresso coffee— a few per day to keep me awake!

Most undervalued ingredient:
When it comes to an undervalued ingredient, I would say it is Parmigiano cheese. Because if it's a lesser quality, it doesn't elevate the taste to what it's supposed to be. But adding shaved, high-quality cheese to the dish adds quality, and will enhance the taste. You don't want to add cheese to seafood dishes, though. That is something many Americans do, but you won't see that in Italy.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Orange County is a fascinating place for food because you have so many choices. OC has the best diversity with the types of restaurants. We go from a Chinese to Cantonese, to Cambodian, to French, to Nouveau to Italian. We've got plenty! We have it all.

Let's discuss the concept of Ristorante Rumari. What is the regional focus on?
Most of our cooking is from Southern Italy, with major influence from Sicily. My family is from Palermo, and so we naturally have dishes like the Swordfish Palermitana (Pesce Spada Palermitana). Many of the dishes are Roman in origin, like the Veal Scaloppine, or the Penne All'Arrabiata.

We have the Mediterranean diet, so of course we eat a lot of tomatoes, garlic and basil. You can never get enough of these three ingredients, and they are not heavy or too rich for the warmer weather palate. In the winter, we tend to serve more cream-based pastas like the lobster ravioli in a creamy Parmigiano sauce, topped with tiger shrimp. During any season, locals refer to our food and our place as 'cozy'. We accommodate anyone's taste, and will prepare a pasta dish either way when people make a request. Some even come in asking for a pink sauce (That is a blend of both worlds, red and cream), just to get the sauce that goes well with salmon.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
The best tip is to start with the tastiest marinara tomato sauce for all your pastas at home. The secret is to buy the sweetest Roma tomatoes, either fresh or imported peeled tomatoes, and hand-squeeze them so they retain the pulp. Start with minced garlic and a nice extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Once it becomes golden, add your tomatoes and let it cook a few minutes. Add a touch of salt, pepper and sugar, if you like. Then add in fresh sliced basil. Important: The secret is not to cook the sauce longer than 15-20 minutes; you do not need to reduce the tomato sauce.

Your most recent food find:
We've been doing the tiger shrimp wrapped in pancetta forever, and people like it so much. I was impressed by a Japanese restaurant that served grilled asparagus with a soy sauce. It was so delicious that I decided to adapt asparagus into a similar dish wrapped in pancetta with a balsamic and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and it's becoming very popular. Especially during the spring and summer, when we have such great local crops. We can also leave out the pancetta for vegetarians, and it's still delicious!

Your earliest food memory:
My earliest memory is that of when my mom and dad would get up early in the morning, while we were all still asleep, and would start baking fresh bread. I remember dreaming of that wonderful scent, and then waking up in the morning to find the whole house filled with the aroma of warm bread coming out of the oven. That was my earliest memory of food. I guess that's why I don't stop eating bread, even when many people in California seem to want to eliminate it. It's part of my life.

How did your family decide on Laguna Beach for their restaurant?
Back in the 1980's, a good friend of ours lived in Laguna Beach. Once we came to visit him, and it reminded us of our little city called Porticello. It had the same climate and same layout. So it became my dream to not only live in Laguna, but open up a restaurant. We had a restaurant at that time in Santa Ana called CIAO. We sold our house and our Ferrari, and we had enough money to put a down payment on the building. So we bought it. We went for it in 1989, and we're still here.

What are your best-selling dishes?
Most popular entree: It's black linguine with black squid ink done with tiger shrimp and clams in a tomato sauce, baked in the oven for about 15 minutes. 
Best selling appetizer: Spiedino, which is the large tiger shrimp wrapped in pancetta. We've had that for about 25 years, and so many locals order it every time they're in. The like the familiarity of the dish and consistency of flavor. 
Most popular dessert: Semi-freddo. It's white chocolate gelato, espresso and crumbled amaretto cookies, topped with chocolate sauce. We create the dish in front of the guests to create excitement. It always brings smiles and anticipation to the guests.

What is your guilty pleasure food?
My guilty pleasure is the cannoli my mother, Mamma Bina, makes— especially when she comes to the restaurant and prepares the fresh dough for the crust. It's so good! She fills them with fresh ricotta cheese and gives me a few to test. They're all gone in about five minutes.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
When they say, “The customer is always right.” We once had a customer who ordered lasagna. She cleaned her plate, and then she called the waiter and claimed the lasagna wasn't good enough, and she didn't want to pay for it. We took it off her bill, even after she ate the food she didn't like! So I guess it's really true, that the customer is always right.

Where was your most recent meal?
Actually, my last meal was in Sicily two days ago. I just got back. I went to this city called Sciacca. I had a plate of their grilled, local seafood: gamberi, swordfish and grilled squid. It was incredible, and much like what I do here with my grilled prawns and swordfish, or my grilled octopus appetizer, served over a bed of arugula.

The last thing you looked up online:
The last Google search I looked up was looking to purchase a RT ticket back to Sicily. I had such a great time that I want to take a friend of mine to feel the same experiences that I had for the past two weeks.

You're making breakfast; what are you having?
It's one espresso with two Amaretti di Sarono cookies that I dip inside the coffee.

Favorite place to eat.
My favorite restaurant is El Magauy in San Juan Capistrano. It has a great flavor, nothing too sophisticated. I've been going there for 25 yeas.

Do you have any skills that have nothing to do with food?
My daughters tell me I have excellent parenting skills; does that count? My two girls turned out to be such amazing young women; both are pursuing advanced degrees, are very careful in their relationships and have many friends. They say that I've done a good job, and I'd like to think so.

What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
Perhaps I'd feel comfortable as a college professor teaching philosophy, because I would like to try to open the minds of others, and to look at the world from outside of the box. 

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