20 November, 2019, 23:04

At Caffé Milano, Chef Fulvia Steffenone Brings a Taste of Italy to Tucson

“Our goal, through good food and wine, is to make people happy.”

In Italian culture, mealtime isn’t just about eating—it’s about the experience. Friends and family gather together, often enjoying food, wine, and one another’s company until late in the evening. This shared sense of community is one of the reasons that owner and chef Fulvia “La Fufi” Steffenone decided to open Caffé Milano back in 2013 in downtown Tucson.

“Our goal, through good food and wine, is to make people happy,” said Steffenone. “We want to share our culture and our passion with others.”

Tagliatelle at Caffe Milano

Tagliatelle at Caffe Milano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Before emigrating to the United States, Steffenone played a major role in Italy’s culinary scene. The chef and entrepreneur trained under the renowned Michelin-starred Gualtiero Marchesi, known as the founder of modern Italian cuisine, before launching her own haute cuisine cooking school, publishing several books and journals, and even hosting the Italian TV show, “La Vecchia Fattoria.”

A taste of Italy

At Caffé Milano, Steffenone puts her expertise to good use with a menu that merges authentic, traditional Italian dishes with a few Americanized favorites. From the appetizers to the entrees, everything is made from scratch using fresh ingredients in the Italian style of cooking.

“We import many ingredients directly from Italy like olive oil,” said Steffenone. “I also use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.”

Steffenone, with the help of her business partner, sommelier, and husband Alfredo Ferrero, also produces a seasonal menu with specials that change throughout the year.

“I like making new recipes and trying new things,” Steffenone said. “And my husband is creative, so we work together to come up with new dishes every season.”

"La Fufi" Fulvia Steffenone at Caffe Milano

“La Fufi” Fulvia Steffenone at Caffe Milano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Menu items to savor

While dishes like the American-Italian chicken marsala are popular, the more traditional fare is where Steffenone really shines. The agnolotti alla Piemontese, a homemade ravioli, stands out with a rich filling of beef, sausage, and cabbage. The dish is then lightly tossed in a roast beef sauce that complements the ravioli without overwhelming it.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the pasta dishes, for that matter, which are made fresh daily by Steffenone herself. The tagliatelle, a long, flat noodle that’s similar to fettucini, is cooked al dente for a nice, firm bite. The gnocchi ai quattro formaggi, small doughy dumplings made with four different cheeses, and the spaghetti alla carbonara, a traditional pasta dish with an egg and parmesan sauce mixed with crispy bits of bacon, are crowd-pleasers, too.

Even the desserts are housemade and include classics like tiramisu and panna cotta. Gluten-free pasta and ravioli are also available upon request, along with gluten-free almond cake for dessert.

Cheers, or should we say saluti?

Wine is an important part of most Italian meals, and both Steffenone and Ferrero work to find varietals that pair well with Caffé Milano’s menu. You’ll find a nice selection that includes recognizable favorites like Merlot, Chianti, and pinot gris along with Italian imports like Barbaresco and Montepulciano (both reds) and Falanghina del Sannio (white).

“The Italian wines are very popular,” said Steffenone, “and many people who try them ask for the wines again when they come back.”

Agnolotti and Tagliatelle at Caffe Milano

Agnolotti and Tagliatelle at Caffe Milano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

While the restaurant focuses mostly on the wine selection, it also serves spirits and traditional Italian cocktails like the Negroni and the Aperol spritz. Steffenone noted that, during the week, they host a happy hour from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

In addition, you’ll find a full coffee and espresso menu because, Steffenone explained, “It’s tradition in Italy to have espresso after a meal.”

Ambiance & events

Caffé Milano’s red accents, linen-covered tables, and exposed brick walls set the mood for a relaxed yet refined dining experience. The room, like the menu, is warm, inviting, and not the least bit pretentious.

It’s the perfect atmosphere to enjoy one of Steffenone’s monthly cooking classes, or partake in the “Tour of Italy,” a chef’s dinner that includes special off-menu items and wine pairings. You can learn more about these offerings by signing up for the restaurant’s email newsletter.

Caffé Milano is located at 46 W. Congress St. and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. For more information, visit lafuficaffemilano.com.

Agnolotti at Caffe Milano

Agnolotti at Caffe Milano (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Dana Sullivan is a content writer and editor with a passion for food, fitness, and fashion. Originally from the East Coast, she's currently exploring/eating her way through Tucson one restaurant at a time.

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