After 10 years in business, chef Alessandro Campitelli closed the doors on his Italian restaurant Chiaroscuro last fall. At the time, he promised a new restaurant called Contrasto, along with “more good things to come.” Now Campitelli is back, with part of his promise intact — he’s launching Contrasto Test Kitchen as a pop-up in the former location of Kitchen 388 (388 Grand Ave)in Oakland.
Kitchen 388 closed in January as a result of family issues, according to owner Philip Thoman; he attempted to reopen, but ultimately chose to focus on his other restaurant, Olea, in San Francisco. Now the restaurant is up for sale— in the meantime, he’s handed over the keys to Campitelli.
Open Friday through Sunday only, the Contrasto Test Kitchen project is intended as a sounding board for Campitelli’s future full-time restaurant. The chef, who lives nearby, says that he’s interested in the space permanently, but hopes to test the waters in Oakland after years of cooking San Francisco.
The menu will be focused on the food of Campitelli’s hometown of Rome. “The main focus will be pasta,” Campitelli told Eater. “That’s why the doors were open for 10 years in San Francisco.” That menu will change often with the seasons, but also according to whatever the chef feels like trying. “It’s a test for me. I want to find a way for people to engage with my night [in the kitchen],” said Campitelli.
That means keeping things very simple and affordable, with no pretension or “fine dining attitude.” Part of Campitelli’s inspiration are the trattorias of Rome, which he says has no equal in the Bay Area. He hopes to include Roman ingredients like oxtail and sheep’s milk ricotta, as well as earthy, homey dishes like pasta carbonara and bucatini all’amatriciana. While the menu configuration is far from finalized, the idea is to let diners interact, possibly choosing ingredients for their meals and having Campitelli cook it for them á la minute.
“I do want to create an experience and do some kind of tasting, but I know a lot of people are afraid of tasting menus,” said Campitelli. “I want to find a way for people to engage with my night, and engage with my night through the menu.” The format itself could even change, from dinner to a special curation of wine and cheese one night to a brunch where diners can cook alongside Campitelli.
The first pop-up will launch the second weekend of April with a small number of seats, as the chef works out the details. Stay tuned for more details on Contrasto Test Kitchen, including how to buy tickets, dates, menus, and more.