Matteo Paderni leans with one hand on a chocolate-brown bentwood chair and makes a lively gesture with the other. At his Upper Eastside eatery, Ni.Do. Caffé, he speaks in rapid Italian to a 50-something patron, a gentleman wearing a starched white button-down shirt and his brunet hair slicked back like a Roman Antonio Banderas.
Around them, petite tables are topped with taupe butcher paper, potted lavender plants, and multicolored platters of cheese and prosciutto crudo. Walls are covered with chalkboards advertising handwritten daily specials. A white wooden cabinet offers glass bottles of tomato sauce, truffle oil, and extra-virgin olive oil for sale. Although dozens of diners crowd the bustling eatery, Paderni dedicates his attention to the man's simple question: Why isn't the buffalo mozzarella made in-house?
"It's impossible to make good fresh buffalo mozzarella in America," Paderni says. "But the other cheeses -- such as the affumicato, the burrata, the fior di latte -- are all made here." Then he explains that water buffalo from the Italian region of Campania are really more like hippopotamuses and much less like the animals found on American prairies. He complains about the difficulty of finding domestic water buffalo milk. And finally he explains the step-by-step process of making fior di latte, which is like buffalo mozzarella but made with cow's milk.
During the fast-paced monologue, his tone darts from friendly to pompous to didactic. When his brunet Italian conversation partner nods in agreement, Paderni's face shows innate satisfaction. In a polite goodbye, he tilts his head slightly, steps away from the man, and turns toward our table.
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"Tutto bene?" he asks. The Florence native requests our order, and after we comply, he informs us that it is too much food. He suggests we eliminate the gnocchi alla sorrentina. I want gnocchi, but there is no time to object. Paderni has already ricocheted to the next group of diners.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.