Mulino Italian Kitchen will tell new culinary story in Babylon’s space

Fresh homemade pasta in a zingara sauce is on the menu of the new Mulino Italian Kitchen and Bar.
Fresh homemade pasta in a zingara sauce is on the menu of the new Mulino Italian Kitchen and Bar. MULINO ITALIAN KITCHEN AND BAR

Samad Hachby is a flurry of motion. He’s cooking fresh pasta, simmering a pan of tomatoes, garlic and basil and speaking brisk Italian to a visiting chef, all while explaining to visitors his vision for his new restaurant, Mulino Italian Kitchen and Bar.

Just a few days earlier, he had his last service at Babylon, the Moroccan restaurant he’s owned on North Dawson Street for more than five years.

But on Tuesday, April 18, the former mill in downtown Raleigh will be unveiled as Mulino.

“I’ve always wanted to do Italian food because of my experiences,” said Hachby, 45. “I was waiting for the right time.”

While Hachby was raised in Morocco, he attended schools in Italy on scholarship before he came to the United States to earn a political science degree from N.C. State. Italian is one of five languages he speaks, and he worked on an Italian cruise ship for five years.

He also thinks that Mulino offers him an opportunity to streamline the multiple menus he cooked in his Babylon kitchen – for indoor and outdoor dining areas along with an upstairs event space used for weddings.

He hopes to reopen Babylon in a smaller, intimate space, maybe downtown, and make it feel more like the Moroccan restaurants and homes he’s visited in his native country.

His plans came into focus after trips to Italy and Morocco in the past year. Last summer, he began his research, essentially eating his way through Italy. He fell in love with Osteria del Mulino in Assisi, a neighborhood restaurant in the Umbria region of Italy that has chickens roaming its grounds. The Umbrian region is in the center of the country, between Tuscany and Rome, and isn’t heavy on traditional red tomato sauce dishes, Hachby said.

“Over there, the grandmothers know how to do that food,” he said.

He ate at Osteria del Mulino at least three or four times “just to understand the theory behind the food.”

“The theory is very good ingredients, good techniques, simple,” he said. “Choosing that as the beginning for us as a menu theory allows us the flexibility to vacillate between Northern Italian cuisine and Southern Italian.”

While simple, good ingredients may sound like common sense, Hachby wanted to get his concept right. He invited the chef of Osteria del Mulino, Ilaria Menzolini, to come to North Carolina. He wanted her to guide him as he developed his menu of homemade pastas, wood-fired oven pizza and entrees.

“I really want to do this by the book,” he told her. “Come and help with the menu.”

Menzolini, 41, said she was “very surprised” to get the unexpected invitation – the first time she’s received such an invite. But she’s embraced her role. For almost two weeks, they have created a menu and practiced making the dishes. They offer tastes to visitors and snap photos of the plated dishes with their phones.

“You’re going to try this,” he says to a visitor about saba – a grape syrup with the consistency of a balsamic reduction – that tops an appetizer. “It’s going to blow your mind.”

The antipasti menu includes salmon marinated 48 hours in sugar cane; a wahoo crudo with stuffed olives; and simmered clams in a white wine garlic sauce.

Pastas are homemade and feature a gnocchi dish with black truffle butter cream sauce; papparadelle pasta with a wild board white ragu sauce; two risottos and lasagna with a white sauce.

Plus, look for an array of wood-fired oven pizzas and entrees like seafood in a saffron broth; grilled lamb chop; and eggplant parmigiana.

Menzolini allowed Hachby to borrow some dishes from her menu. A carpaccio appetizer features the thinly sliced cured meat topped with porcini mushrooms and a raspberry vinaigrette. The slow-simmered chicken in white wine also is hers. So is a pasta stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

The bar will have cicchetti, an Italian version of tapas and snacks.

When Hachby announced his restaurant changes last month, he faced a bit of a backlash from customers, he said. He attributes that to being one of the few Moroccan restaurants in the area.

“They were shocked,” he said. “Some people were angry at me. They took it seriously. It’s very humbling.”

That’s why he’s sure to keep the lamb shank as a signature dish. It’s an Italian-based execution, but the same cut as featured in Babylon.

But he believes traveling introduces people to new things, and that includes new foods. The interior of the renovated restaurant will tell the story of a trip to Italy.

“My attitude is you have to tear down the walls, you have to be open to change, open to learn,” Hachby said.

Hachby said Menzolini told him that the experience working with him has helped her look at her own food with new perspective.

And since this is her first visit to the United States, she has tried new foods, too.

One stop? Sushi.

Info: Mulino will be at 309 N. Dawson St.,

Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831; @JessicaBanov