By Ashley Ludwig
When the fourth annual Chef Open of Temecula competition called for participants, Chef Francesco Cusimano answered with flair. Now, Chef Open winner and co-owner of Rustico Ristorante and Pizzeria in Murrieta is delighted to share his winning style with Southwest Riverside County.
“I learned that if you want to be successful, the secret is to give people what they like,” Cusimano said.
Cusimano described the winning recipe, Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, as “traditional American comfort food with a little (big) twist.”
That comfort food, and the Chef Open competition that benefited Oak Grove Center for Education, Treatment & the Arts, has inspired an increase of traffic into the cozy restaurant.
“People come to order the Lobster Mac and Cheese, and come back again and again,” Cusimano said. “Often, we [chefs] get caught up making sophisticated dishes that people can’t even pronounce, forgetting that simplicity is what most patrons want.”
Francesco Cusimano grew up in Sicily, working in his uncle’s restaurant and developed a love of cooking. He met his wife Filippa and moved with her to California in 1992.
They transitioned to her family’s restaurant in Carlsbad, where he learned the preferences of American tastes.
Study with mentors like La Jolla Ropongi’s Chef Stephen Window, educated him on the arts of fusion cooking and appreciation of Asian and Pacific Rim cuisine. Those influences remain with him to this day.
According to Cusimano, Rustico cooks for all tastes. His simple, yet delicious dishes have inspired high ratings among patrons on Yelp, and other online review sites.
Restaurant visitors are welcomed with warm bread, served with delightful balsamic vinegar dipping sauce to enjoy as they select from Rustico’s expansive Italian menu.
According to Cusimano, his most frequently ordered dishes include the Shrimp and Scallop Agro Dolce, Linguine Frutti di Mare, and steak Filetto Rustico, as well as the extensive Tapas menu available during daily happy hour at the bar.
Rustico’s offers home-made breads, sauces, and salad dressings. And, for those curious to try the Top Chef-winning Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, it remains on special every day.
Rustico’s Ristorante is located at 29940 Hunter Rd., Ste 102 in Murrieta.
For reservations, call 951-698-5151.
For hours or to view their full menu online, visit iloverustico.com.