Durham Italian restaurant: Cucciolo Osteria will open in West Village this summer

Cucciolo Osteria, an Italian restaurant owned by cousins Julian and Jimmy Kim, will open this summer in Durham.Drew Jackson

Few things connect time and space better than food, but hold on tight, the latest downtown Durham restaurant may give you jet lag.

Cousins Jimmy and Julian Kim from South Korea will open Cucciolo Osteria this summer, a restaurant devoted to their childhood comfort food of Italian cuisine.

It’s the fifth Italian restaurant from a restaurant group born in Seoul, a concept so trans-hemispheric it practically has frequent flyer miles.

The Kim cousins each lived in Europe for a decade while growing up. Jimmy Kim said Italian food, especially pastas, were a childhood favorite. Later, they each became restaurateurs on opposite sides of the globe.

Jimmy Kim, who went to Duke University for undergraduate studies and business school, opened the Mixed Korean Bistro and food truck. Julian Kim started the first Cucciolo Osteria as a 20-seat restaurant in Seoul. (The restaurant’s name means “baby restaurant” in Italian.)

Cucciolo Osteria will open on 601 W. Main St. in the West Village Development shared by West End Wine Bar. It moves into a vacant suite in the building, being the first business to call it home since West Village was renovated in 2008.

Jimmy Kim, who will be the chef and owner of the Durham location, said it began with a visit to Korea a year ago.

“I was visiting Korea, and (Julian) had just opened the third Cucciolo, and I was really, really impressed by his food,” Jimmy Kim said. “I told him I’d love to open one in Durham, and he said if I really wanted to he’d help in any way he could. That was a year ago.”

Jimmy Kim said the restaurant will focus on Roman cooking, largely homemade and dried pastas, but little red sauce.

The menu is still in development, but pastas may include cacio e pepe, the famous Roman cheese and pepper pasta; housemade noodles with a sauce of cheese and truffles; and a rigatoni with vodka cream sauce. Antipasti could be arancini, fried risotto balls, with spicy aioli, and creamed mushrooms and cognac with foccacia bread for dipping.

Larger plates may include porchetta and a butter chicken made with lemon and arugula.

In much the way Italian American cooking has evolved into something separate from authentic Italian, Jimmy Kim said there’s also Korean-Italian, manifested here in a sea bass with lemon and dill, but also housemade dried seaweed powder. He said he sees parallels in the Italian and Korean food cultures, from techniques like marination and fermentation to passions for food.

The most heavily Instagrammed dish from the original Cucciolo Ostera is a carpaccio of thinly sliced beef tenderloin with a paste made from black truffles.

Jimmy said construction on the 2,500-square-foot space began three weeks ago, and he expects to open in June. The dining room will have 60 seats, with more planned for an outside patio. Like its Korean namesake, the Durham Cucciolo will have a light carrera marble bar with room for 15 seats.

After Kim graduated from Duke in 2004, he returned to South Korea for the country’s mandatory military service. When he returned to attend the Fuqua School of Business five years later, now married with a child, he couldn’t believe how much Durham had changed.

“When I was here for undergrad, downtown Durham was an area we were told to keep out of,” Kim said. “When I came back, it had evolved so much. I was impressed by how much this town was booming. … It’s just a great area to live and raise a family.”

The search for a location took about a year, but Kim said he was struck by the high ceilings and decades-old brick in the old converted warehouse. With Cucciolo Osteria, he said he’s shooting for the vibe of a neighborhood restaurant, where diners can feel like popping in for a drink or bite.

“I found this space and just fell in love,” he said.


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