IGFORK — The first reservations were made six months prior. By the week of Valentine’s Day, there wasn’t a single table available at Moroldo’s Fine Italian Restaurant.
Ten years later, this family restaurant that sits hidden up a dirt road, tucked among stands of pine trees and moss-covered outcrops, is well established as one of the top fine-dining experiences in Montana. Head chef Fabrizio Moroldo has developed a devoted following with his homegrown culinary talents that are rooted in Italy and hold a revered stature in the Flathead Valley.
His reputation extended beyond this corner of the state last year when he was named one of the foremost chefs in America by his peers. Moroldo was one of 12 chefs in Montana to be chosen for the inaugural edition of “Best Chefs America,” a publication calling itself “the ultimate chef’s guide to chefs” that showcases the best in the culinary world. Moroldo and Andy Blanton of Café Kandahar in Whitefish were the lone nominees from Northwest Montana.
“I was not expecting it,” Moroldo says recently, expressing surprise about the award.
His customers were likely less shocked.
Moroldo’s is an intimate, well-lighted place that comforts guests with the aromas and characteristic spirit of Italian fare. The walls feature historic photos of Venice and the Moroldos’ lineage that has its roots overseas. A rock fireplace as its centerpiece, the cozy atmosphere feels more like home than a business. The remote setting off Montana Highway 35 only makes it more of an eating adventure.
So how did Moroldo, his wife Laura and two kids, Ethan and Kimberley, end up leaving Italy and arriving in Bigfork 10 years ago?
“When I was a kid I loved cowboys,” Moroldo says. After all, Italy is home to the spaghetti Western. Growing up the young boy watched every classic Western film he could and became enamored by two specific American cowboys: John Wayne and Gary Cooper.
Years later when Moroldo began visiting America for work, he ventured on a detour to visit Cooper’s home state of Montana. It became a regular vacation destination for the family, one that drew their interest more and more with each visit. Finally they uprooted, but Moroldo brought his country’s revered cuisine with him. Instead of creating an Italian restaurant built on America’s ideals, he kept it genuine and authentic.
“Some people have the wrong idea of what’s real Italian,” he says, citing greasy, high-fat menu items. “Many customers come here and they know it’s real Italian because they’ve been to Italy.”
Customers have become accustomed to such specialty items as the rigatoni all’ammatricia, featuring pasta with bacon imported from Italy, fresh tomatoes, basil, spicy red pepper and pecorino romano, or veal cutlets made with an assortment of secret recipes.
Part of the joy that Moroldo finds in his work is the creativity that comes with cooking. His menu is constantly evolving, and his customers frequently ask him to dish up a unique, specialty plate of his choice.
“That makes you happy because they trust you,” he says.
Yet despite the accolades and favor, Moroldo is focused on constantly evolving and discovering new flavors.
“You don’t make it a favor for people to come to your place. They make it a favor to come to you. Lots of people in the restaurant business, they’ve forgotten this,” he says.
“We try always to do something different and to please them. I like it because then they don’t feel like just a customer coming into the restaurant, ordering, eating, paying and then leaving. We have relationships with our customers and that’s what we’ve built over time.”
Moroldo’s Fine Italian Restaurant is located at 7951 Montana Highway 35 in Bigfork. During winter, the restaurant is open Wednesday-Saturday and six-days-a-week in mid-June, closed Tuesdays. Call 837-2720.
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