How This Italian Restaurant Brings a Taste of the South to its Menu

By Camille Styles
le farfalle, traditional italian restaurant in charleston

When Chanel and I were on our whirlwind trip to Charleston last month, we fell completely in love with the design, the owners, and of course, the incredible food, at Italian spot Le Farfalle. At first glance, one could easily mistake its modern interiors for those of a buzzy Italian restaurant in New York or San Francisco: soaring white ceilings, exotic tile backsplash, and statement-making art check all the boxes for the new “it” spot in any food-lover’s city. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice that the sleek space is imbued with a warm patina that makes it all Charleston. Classic wicker barstools line the massive bar, welcoming patrons to settle in for an Ace of Cups cocktail or two and stay awhile. There’s a vegetable and herb garden on the side of the building where ingredients are foraged daily — and next to it, a welcoming bowl of fresh water just waiting for canine passersby. And that perfectly weather wood table? It’s actually weathered: owners Michael and Caitlin Toscano dragged it from home when they needed to bring in some extra group seating.

photos by Lucy Cuneo

For the husband and wife team, Le Farfalle is the result of a shared dream, beckoning them from the fast-paced world of New York restaurants kitchens to Charleston, in search of a simpler life that allowed them to follow their passions and raise a family in a calmer environment with a strong food scene.

After graduating from culinary school, Michael moved to New York where he honed his skills working under Thomas Keller and Mario Batali before launching his own venture, Perla, an award-winning Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village.

Meanwhile, Caitlin built her front-of-house pedigree at acclaimed spots Craft and Per Se before moving into management at several of Mario Batali’s establishments. After having a child, the Toscanos craved a lifestyle change that was more conducive to family life, and they saw a gap in the Charleston restaurant scene for an authentic Italian restaurant.

The idea for Le Farfalle was born, and the Toscanos made the move to Charleston, bringing with them a fresh perspective to its dining scene. As Michael explained, “We like to think that we offer the freshest ingredients from the Lowcountry, simply prepared just the way you would experience in regions all over Italy that celebrate what’s local and seasonal by sourcing the highest quality regional ingredients. Then we prepared them simply so that the beauty of those ingredients can shine.”

That ethos is why you might find such unexpected Southern touches on the menu as Sorghum Pappardelle alla Norma. A traditionally Lowcountry ingredient, sorghum seed is milled fresh at the restaurant into flour then mixed with eggs and semolina to create a rustic noodle. The pasta is then dressed like it would be in Catania (a town on the eastern coast of Sicily) with local fried eggplant, tomato sauce, mint, basil, and ricotta salata.

On the day of my late lunch reservation at Le Farfalle, I strolled from my cushy room at the gorgeous Zero George hotel and felt transported the minute I entered the restaurant. As the Octopus Carpaccio and Little Gem Caesar Salad came out (just my first courses), I realized my first mistake: eating breakfast. As I sampled the Goat Cheese Tortelli with Summer Squash Pesto and the whole Branzino cooked with herbs and shishito peppers, I ignored my fullness in order to have just one more bite of each item, savoring unexpected flavors that appeared so simple on the surface, but were combined with the vision of a highly skilled chef who knows how to make the final dish so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Sipping Nebbiolo, I imagined I might be in Italy, or perhaps a corner booth at the coolest new restaurant in Brooklyn. But then I caught site of Caitlin bringing in pomegranates from her backyard garden, and caught the friendly grin of the bartender behind the counter, and was instantly reminded that Le Farfalle belongs nowhere else but Charleston.

A few questions for Chef Michael Toscano:

What’s your favorite item on the menu?

Scialatielli with Local Clammer Dave’s Clams and Garlic Breadcrumbs. A dish hailing from the Amalfi Coast. The pasta is made by using a high gluten flour and milk. It kneads for 20 minutes to achieve a beautiful chew. The rich noodle is simply dressed with white wine, clams, the clams liquor, chili, garlic, lemon, and then finished with breadcrumbs.

What’s your favorite Southern dish?

Crab Rice from Nana’s Seafood and Soul.

It’s 5 o’clock on your night off. What are you cooking at home?

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio or Pomodoro.

Kitchen gadget you can’t live without?

Pasta extruder.

Five things that are always in your fridge at home:

Sparkling water, Calabrian chili, Parmigiano Reggiano, Duke’s mayo, and Giardiniera.