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Michael Pagliarini on Giulia's First Year

Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater chats with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their first anniversary.

[Photo: Katie Chudy]

Last month, Giulia (a brand new Eater 38 inductee) celebrated its first anniversary, and Eater had the chance to catch up with co-owner and chef Michael Pagliarini to chat about the year in review and what lies ahead for year two.

Congratulations on your first year! Any especially memorable moments that you'd like to share?
One of my favorite memories from the first year was cooking dinner for Harold McGee at the chef's table. Turns out he's a friend of one of our regular guests, and she insisted he come in for dinner. What an amazing night! We also cooked for my former chef, Grant Achatz. He dined with Ming Tsai, and we did a special tasting menu for them. It was also overwhelming, the number of local chefs and restaurant people who came out to support us in the first year. Everyone from Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang to Michael Schlow, Esti Parsons (all my former employers), Frank McClelland, Gordon Hamersley, Jody Adams, Barbara Lynch, Jamie Mammano, and Chris Schlesinger, to name a few.

I also remember our first New Year's Eve. I was pleasantly surprised that our front-of-the-house staff had come to work wearing their New Year's best. I guess I was just expecting our normal uniforms, but the gentlemen had jackets, and ladies wore dresses. It was a special occasion for us. The staff, as they always have throughout the first year, rose to the occasion and made it a memorable night.

[Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal]

How has your menu evolved since you first opened?
The menu changes and evolves seasonally. When we opened, I never expected that the pappardelle with wild boar would be unchanged for an entire year. It's just our most popular dish. Also, the bucatini all'amatriciana hasn't changed. It's Pam's (my wife and co-owner of Giulia) favorite and mine as well, a dish that helped launch the restaurant and should always be there. But overall, the menu is meant to be small — only one page long — and agile enough to adapt or react to what is best that day.

This is your first restaurant that you've owned. Any surprises that came along with that?
Very few, actually. It's what I expected it to be. I knew how much work had to be done. I know how much lies ahead. The surprise for me is just how resilient and dedicated the staff has been. We've had so little turnover! We owe them so much. I can honestly say that Giulia is even better than what I imagined it would be and that with this staff in place and the dedication of our managers, there's no limit to what we can accomplish.

Not really a surprise and more of an anecdote, we have a special dining table in the basement, just for Pam and me. We try to sit down at the end of service every night and have dinner together. I order some food for us once the board is clear, or sometimes I just cook it myself, and we sit and have a "normal" dinner. She gets the wine and sets the table, and we try to decompress and talk about the day. Some days it's the only time we actually spend together. I look forward to it each day. Food, wine, and a great dining companion make for a wonderfully restorative meal.

[Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal]

The outside of the building has changed a lot since Giulia opened. Tell me a little about that process.
We did a facade improvement project and actually won an award from the city of Cambridge for restoring the facade to its original brick front. It was a simplification and a return to the historic photos that we saw from the 1950s. By eliminating the mansard, canary yellow, wood-shingled roof (covered with a brown logo'd canvas) and also removing the old cracked pigmented glass panels, we achieved a clean break with the past. Our sign was a collaboration with our neighbor, Allen Sayegh, who is a professor at the Graduate School of Design.

What can we expect from Giulia in year two?
I think we are going to start offering two different tasting menus, one longer — a truly enhanced dining experience at eight courses — and a second one that takes you through the traditional Italian progression at five courses. Our chef's table will continue to evolve, and we'll have more wine dinners, more purveyor dinners, better partnerships with growers and foragers, better sourcing of specialty Italian products, more ambitious in-house whole animal butchery/charcuterie/pasta-making/pastry — and just continuing to push forward overall. We strive for a better version of ourselves each day, each service, and with each guest. Oh, and we are planning to do some guest chef dinners, I hope.

We're also going to continue to develop and nurture our people. Our sous chef in particular is a great young talent who is earning the opportunity to bring some dishes to the menu. Our GM and I are growing and expanding our wine list, both higher-end and more esoteric, hard-to-find bottles at a great value. Our bar program is getting better and stronger all the time. We are embracing the same ideas at the bar that we have in the kitchen: simple composition with a few ingredients, a short declarative sentence that expresses the essential identity of the cocktail or dish we are serving.

Lastly, there will be more traditional cooking, truly delving into some great Italian classics (lasagna alla bolognese) and more innovation as well. We've built a solid foundation of cooking, and now have more room to experiment and innovate.

[Photo: Rachel Leah Blumenthal]

· All coverage of Giulia on Eater [~EBOS~]
· All One Year In interviews on Eater [~EBOS~]

Giulia (Cambridge)

1682 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 441-2800 Visit Website