When an Italian mother and a Roman chef are in the kitchen of a new restaurant, you know it’s going to be good. That is what’s going on at Pax Romana, which opened in downtown White Plains in early February. The owner’s mother is often in the kitchen preparing her lasagna and helping the chef with their fresh homemade dishes, and the chef, Cristian Petitta, formerly of nearby La Bocca, is so passionate about bringing Roman food to his customers that almost everything not homemade is imported from Italy.
Chef Cristian Petitta and Owner Alfredo Runco
Owners Alfredo and Christian Runco are first-generation Italian-Americans who were raised in Yonkers and spent the first fifteen summers of their lives splitting time between Northern and Southern Italy with their parents and families. The brothers’ third partner, Paul Russo, is also a first-generation Italian-American who grew up in Tarrytown.
When the large East Post Road restaurant space became available last year, the three men jumped at the chance to use it as the location of their dream restaurant with a menu dedicated to the simple, fresh, authentic Italian food on which they were raised.
“We really try to stand behind using the word ‘authentic,’” Alfredo Runco says. “We have a lot of space to create our own family recipes and we are using ingredients as close as possible to what you’d find in Italian restaurants in Rome or anywhere in Italy.”
The main restaurant seats up to 75, but the space also features a gelato counter, a small cafe with a foosball table, a 20-seat bar (which was packed on a recent Monday night), a fresh pasta bar, and a catering hall. On most nights, an Italian pasta-maker shapes noodles out of sheets of dough in front of diners seated at the pasta bar. The owners plan to dedicate that space for cooking classes and demonstrations in coming months. The roominess extends into the kitchen, giving them the ability to create their family recipes and be creative with the dishes, Runco says.
The dinner menu features mostly pasta dishes made with just three or four ingredients that range from $11 to $14, three pizzas from $11 to $13, several salads and a few seafood, chicken and meat entrées, which range from $16 to $22. For lunch, you’ll find paninis, frittatas and build-your-own salad options, ranging from $7 to $15.
Here are some of Pax Romana’s highlights, a menu influenced heavily by the cuisine of Rome.
Suppli ar telefono e olive ascolane, $6
A tomato-based risotto ball with a mozzarella center, served with fried olives, which are stuffed with pork, veal, and beef. Chef Petitta explains that in Italy, kids refer to rice balls as “telefono” because when you pull them apart they resemble a phone with a cord as the mozzarella stretches into one long strand between the two sides of the rice ball.
Flan de pecorino, $7
Fava beans and pecorino cheese are an Italian favorite, but Chef Petitta wanted to give the dish a twist. He whipped the pecorino cheese into a flan, served on top of a fava bean purée and drizzled with grape must.
Polipo Grigliato, $12
The grilled octopus was fresh and perfectly cooked, served on top of a smooth cannellini bean purée and drizzled with ‘nduja, a spreadable spicy sausage.
Margherita Pizza, $11
Sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil on top of crisp, airy dough make this pizza more like a flatbread than a regular American pizza pie, staying true to the owners’ mission.
Spaghetti a’ carbonara, $12 (pictured above)
Perfectly al dente spaghetti is covered in a tasty sauce made with egg yolk, black pepper, and pecorino cheese, with pieces of guanciale, which is Italian for pig cheek. This is owner Alfredo Runco’s favorite dish and definitely one to try.
Fusilli con broccolo romanesco e ricotta salata, $12
This dish is simple and fresh, made with Roman broccoli, red onion, and salted-aged ricotta.
Pollo e peperoni, $16
Sautéed chicken, red peppers, onion, and tomato come served in a tomato sauce—a classic poultry item.
Related: Not Your Average Italian Joint
Branzino n’ trasparenza, $21
Baked Mediterranean sea bass, clams, mussels, shrimp, julienned vegetables, and fresh mint are baked in the oven in a plastic bag, which is then cut open at the table so that the delicious steamy smell wafts over the table. The simplicity of the ingredients allows the fresh taste of the branzino to shine. This is an excellent dish for any dieter who still wants to enjoy a delicious meal.
Gelato, $4 for small, $7 for large
Available for dessert at dinner, or at the counter at the front of the restaurant, this homemade gelato will have lines out the door come summer. We tried stracciatella (vanilla chocolate chip), menta (chocolate chip mint), fragola (strawberry), Nutella and peanut butter. Strawberry and vanilla chocolate chip were our favorites.
189 E Post Rd, White Plains