Watch the cheese

Newly opened Restaurant La Perla d'Italia falls into a category that's strangely rare in Dallas: Italian food made by real Italians. It also has another notable distinction, because the restaurant makes its own mozzarella cheese.

Owner Maurizio Primo is a veteran restaurateur well-known in Dallas' northwestern suburbs. A native of Naples, Italy, whose accent is still charmingly pronounced, he owns Sfizio, an Italian restaurant in Coppell, and he has worked at a number of Italian restaurants over the years.

"The best way to eat mozzarella is on the day it's made, and that's what we're trying to provide," says owner Maurizio Primo.

La Perla is his first major venture in Dallas, and he's making it count by showcasing the production of his cheese in a glass-enclosed nook in the dining room. While you nibble on your flawlessly composed Caprese salad, you can witness the cheese being made.

"I don't think any other restaurant is producing mozzarella di Bufala in a dining-room setting for everyone to see," Primo says. "The best way to eat mozzarella is on the day it's made, and that's what we're trying to provide. While you eat, you can see the production of it."

Mozzarella di Bufala is special in that it is made from the milk of a water buffalo; Primo imports milk curds from Italy, which he uses to make his cheese.

His original goal with La Perla was to simply open a cheese-making facility. But when the former Capriccio space behind Galleria Dallas became available, he realized he could do both. "My whole thing was to make cheese," he says. "The restaurant was an addition, but my goal was always to do a lab."

He's surrounded himself with other Naples natives, including chef Gennaro Matino and cheesemaker Emanuele Buonocore, who has been in Dallas for such a short time that he still cannot speak English. Those are his dexterous fingers molding and massaging the cheese.

They're starting out with three cheeses: mozzarella di Bufala; smoked mozzarella; and burrata, the luscious cream-filled delicacy. They're already for sale at the restaurant, and Primo is working on distribution to local gourmet shops and markets.

Or, you can consume them onsite. La Perla's menu combines authentic Italian with Italian-American dishes, with an emphasis on seafood. Starters include calamari, meatballs with fresh ricotta, broccoli rabe and sausage, bruschetta, and Bufala Caprese salad.

Pastas include spaghetti with meatballs or with mussels, linguine with white clams, linguine with seafood, linguine Alfredo, penne with eggplant and mozzarella, and penne alla vodka. Among other dishes are gnocchi, lasagna, eggplant Parmigiana, veal piccata, chicken with capers and lemon sauce, chicken with marsala sauce, and shrimp scampi.

At lunch, La Perla does $9.99 specials pairing pasta with chicken. At happy hour, the restaurant has a $10 snack-fest with risotto balls and other "finger food."

The name of the restaurant has a cheese connection too. "It's named after a big cheese factory in Naples," Primo says.

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