Calafuria has been serving house-made pasta, wood-fired seafood and exceptional wines since 2016. They recently began serving international dishes during the brunch window on Sundays. Chef Tim Magee, sommelier Cristina De Nigris and their hardworking staff create romantic, memorable experiences for diners.
Authenticity and Family Are the Driving Forces Behind Calafuria
My wife and I arrived at Calafuria on a Wednesday night for a 7 p.m. reservation. Families, couples and recent graduates packed the restaurant. Chef Magee and De Nigris graciously shared some of their time with us.
In addition to being the restaurant’s sommelier, De Nigris also performs graphic design, menu design, social media management and website management for the restaurant. Chef Magee and De Nigris are married, and they’ve been raising their two children in Reno for the last four years.
Before De Nigris met Magee, she was restoring paintings in her home country of Italy. Her knowledge of wine is extensive, and she focuses on old world wine’s made by small producers for Calafuria. I asked why she prefers small, artisanal producers. She said that, first and foremost, they produce wine she enjoys, and secondly, these winemakers rarely make mistakes.
The wines she sources, coincidentally, are typically organic, natural or biodynamically produced. Biodynamic wine employs the methods of organic wine production with additional foci placed on carefully cultivating the entire eco-system surrounding the vineyard as well as astronomical considerations during planting, sowing, harvesting and pruning.
Chef Magee went to college in Reno where he received a degree in literature (English majors represent!). When a friend of his offered him a job to cook in Italy, he jumped on it. While Magee cooked in Italy, a mutual friend introduced him to De Nigris.
Chef Magee spent 15 years learning from cooking phenoms in Italy. Magee and De Nigris went on to own a restaurant in Italy, Le Nuvole. Magee also worked for a time at Noma (wow!).
The couple started their family in Italy with two children. Magee’s roots and family in Reno were the catalysts for the movement back to the states.
I asked Magee what he hoped to bring back to Reno from Italy. He gestured around the restaurant and explained that he wished to bring back exactly what Calafuria is, an authentic, not watered down for American palates, representation of the food he fell in love with while cooking in Italy.
Affordable Plates and Romantic Atmosphere During Dinner
Magee and De Nigris created an intimate, beautiful space with a farmhouse aesthetic. Warm, slightly dim lighting illuminates the interior. An open kitchen and a staff that understands hustle keeps the space lively. The outdoor patio is gorgeous, and fresh ingredients can be seen growing in garden beds out front.
Our friendly server quickly brought out slices of house-made sourdough baguette and focaccia accompanied by house-made butter. The focaccia had a delicious balance of crunch, salt, herbs and oil. The sourdough had the perfect amount of crispiness and chewiness. The butter was mild and creamy.
After the bread, we enjoyed their vegetarian appetizer on special. Appetizers run $12 to $19. The special consisted of grilled, scallop-style trumpet mushrooms, fried onions, watercress salad and a cucumber, mint and dill yogurt sauce. A fantastic oil and salt topped the salad. The mushrooms convincingly mimicked scallops in texture, and they were dusted with a BBQ-like seasoning. The sauce was bright, tart and creamy. Chef Magee shared that his sous chefs were the minds behind this fantastic dish.
My wife ordered the gnocchi in pesto with sundried tomatoes (regularly $22) for her entrée. The pesto included almonds, basil, parm, EVOO and a dash of salt. The gnocchi had just the right amount of resistance and give, and they held the sauce well. I loved the use of almonds as pine nuts can sometimes be a little too rich. The sundried tomatoes were juicy with a serious depth of flavor.
I ordered the rigatoni with house-made Tuscan sausage (regularly $22). The tubular pasta had just the right texture on the tooth. Chef Magee shared that the rigatoni gets made with semolina and the other pastas get made with Caputo flour. The red sauce, sausage, onions and pasta had great proportions. The ridged tubes held the sauce well. The sausage was a delight.
My wife enjoyed some Prosecco (?), what seemed to be a house red and a rosé during our meal. Neither of us can eloquently describe the acidity, body, texture, etc., but she said each drink was distinct and enjoyable. You can trust your server to steer you well!
We finished our meal with warm, strawberry Tea cake, vanilla gelato and lavender honey (regularly $12). The cake was moist, a touch tart from the berries, and it had a moderate body. The scoop of gelato sat in the middle of the cake. I didn’t taste lavender in the honey, but my palate is far from discerning. I think I would have preferred a solo scoop of gelato, but my wife raved about the overall dish giving it 10/10.
Every dish during dinner had robust portions, and I think they have great value.
Unexpected Brunch Delicacies
We returned to Calafuria on a Sunday to explore their brunch menu. We started our meal with two unsweetened lattes ($4 each). Calafuria sources their coffee from local favorite, Magpie Coffee Roasters and European favorite, illy. The drinks were served a touch lukewarm, but the creaminess and foam from the whole milk made up for it.
My wife ordered the hot pot with peperonata, poached egg and chorizo for $12. Don’t mistake this dish as having any relation to Chinese hot pot. Some will see a resemblance to shakshouka. At Calafuria, the peperonata hot pot consists of a ceramic bowl filled with a tomato sauce, North African spices, ground chorizo, softened bell peppers, softened onions, a poached egg and two slices of sourdough baguette. The dish reminded me of my mom’s red sauce with meat topped with tasty bread and a poached egg. I loved the ample heat of the seasoning, the delicate ground chorizo and the sweetness brought forth by the tomatoes, peppers and onions.
I ordered the steak and egg sandwich with spinach salad for $12. The beef consists of short ribs that are braised, partially sweetened and then shredded. The peperonata, here, too, was great. The rapini (think slightly bitter broccolini) seemed to be puréed with butter and spread onto the toasted roll – it had whipped, buttery, mustardy qualities and it was delicious. I failed to ask what kind of roll housed the sandwich, but it was robust, airy, buttery and well-toasted. I enjoyed that the kitchen served the egg face down, so that the beef and bun absorbed the yolk. The kitchen lightly dressed the salad with a light vinaigrette. I’m not familiar with anywhere else in town that serves a sandwich like this one; it’s well worth a try!
Our server during brunch was especially friendly and helpful. She happily relayed a few of our questions to the kitchen when asked. Calafuria’s food, imagination and service will keep us coming back.
Visit Calafuria at 725 S. Center St., Reno, NV 89501. Call in your reservation at (775) 360-5175. They are open Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 4:30 p.m. and open on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. They are closed on Mondays. Visit Calafuria online at calafuriareno.com.