One look at the eggplant parmigiana at I’m Eddie Cano, a 60-seat eatery in Upper Northwest D.C. that replaced Banana Leaf restaurant in October, and you know this is not a typical Italian restaurant.
Ultra-thin layers of roasted eggplant are layered with sprinklings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fresh basil and a sauce resplendent with San Marzano Italian tomatoes, widely known for their superior flavor. The serving comes in a neat rectangle shaped like a napoleon dessert, with eggplant and tomato standing in for striations of pastry and custard and a disk of gently melting buffalo mozzarella cheese serving as icing. Chef and co-owner James Gee eschews the breading and stodginess we’ve come to expect in eggplant parmigiana and turns the dish into something refined, elegant and irresistible. This dish is no one-off; I’m Eddie Cano’s menu is a trove of gustatory treasures.
Gee, 39, who lives in Rockville, has an accomplished cooking pedigree. He worked most recently as the chef at The Georgetown Club and before that at two of chef José Andrés’ restaurants—China Chilcano in Washington and Jaleo in Bethesda. Gee co-owns I’m Eddie Cano with husband-and-wife Massimo and Carolyn Papetti, who live in Chevy Chase, D.C. The three became close friends while working together in the mid-2000s at the notable East Hampton, New York, eatery Cittanuova. Years ago, they hatched a plan to one day open a restaurant together and embarked on many annual eating and drinking research trips to Italy to that end. Gee moved to Washington in 2011 to work for Andrés. The Papettis settled here three years ago and Massimo worked as the manager at Café Milano. He now runs the floor at their place; Carolyn handles marketing duties. She is also a certified sommelier and curated the restaurant’s reasonably priced and intriguing Italian wine list.
She also came up with the name I’m Eddie Cano—it’s the phonetic pronunciation of “Americano,” the Italian word for American. It’s corny but may grow on you. The name and the menu, which lists “Americano” dishes on one side and “Italiano” ones on the other, underscore the owners’ notion that Italian-American food and authentic Italian food are two different things.