WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
The highly personal New Orleans-Italian cuisine of chef-owner Duke Locicero creates a menu that seems to have come from two different restaurants. On the one hand are the most traditional dishes form the southern Italian cookbook. On the other is an ever-changing catalog of Louisiana-style dishes, convincing in their use of cayenne, butter, cream, and smoke, many of them unique to this restaurant. The chef’s tasting menu may be the most unusual Italian meal you can have in New Orleans. And one that will test the limits of your appetite, as most dishes here do.
Although the chef acquits himself well when whipping up enormous dishes of this or that in red sauce with a pile of pasta on the side, that side of the menu is to bring enough tourists in so that the better side of Chef Duke’s repertoire can thrive. That part of the menu is always in flux, with a few classic dishes sprinkled between new themes and variations. The ingredients are of superb quality, although most plates are so laden with food that the subtleties are sometimes muted. Cafe Giovanni always has some special menu or other going on, usually at an attractive price.
Owner-chef Duke LoCicero was discovered by legendary New Orleans restaurateur Joe Marcello, who sent him to culinary school. He wound up in Houston at a celebrated restaurant called the Brownstone, but returned to New Orleans to open Cafe Giovanni in 1991. The restaurant was vandalized after Hurricane Katrina, but the chef soldiered on and was one of the earlier returnees. He is unusually active in the community, and even has his own charitable foundation for children.
The two sides of the menu look very different, but both are drenched in old New Orleans style. The main dining room has a decidedly old New Orleans look, with tall ceilings, mirrors, and a faux courtyard (it used to be a real one, but is now enclosed) in the rear. The singers move among the tables and can bring the house down, accompanied by a superb pianist. It’s one of the few venues where the music is in the same league as the highly original Italian food. It makes for as festive a place as can be found to dine. The bar–which stays open late with both drinks and food–will put you in the mind of the bawdier side of New Orleans night life.
Fried green tomatoes with two remoulades
»Tuscany asparagus (panned with prosciutto, mozzarella, pumpkin seed-basil pesto)
»Grilled marinated portobello mushroom
»Oysters Giovanni (fried, five sauces)
»Eggplant Locicero (fried; shrimp and crawfish, dill cream sauce)
»Spicy seafood Caprese (crab, shrimp, crawfish, tomato, mozzarella)
»Chilled seafood martini
Caesar salad, eggplant croutons
»Chopped Italian salad
Spinach and arugula salad
»Crabmeat Siciliania salad
Seafood and avocado salad
»Cannelloni (beef, pork, veal, cheese, eggplant and pine nuts)
»Spaghetti fra diavolo
Meatballs and spaghetti
»Spaghetti alla bolognese
»Ravioli del giorno
Veal, chicken, or eggplant baked with four cheeses
Voodoo shrimp or chicken (sweet-spicy sauce and cheese grits
Stuffed chicken breast, spinach, Italian sausage, Fontina cheese, roasted tomato sauce
»Chicken, veal, or beef tenderloin Marsala
»Chicken, veal, or pork piccata
»Fire roasted Gulf fish with crabmeat, artichokes, mushrooms
»Roasted half duck, sweet marsala garlic glaze
»Shrimp and duck Decatur (spicy tasso mushroom sauce)
»Duke’s filet (brandy, foie gras and green peppercorn sauce)
»Southern Comfort trifle
»White Chocolate Bread Pudding
FOR BEST RESULTS
Go on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday if you want to hear the singers (or other days if not). The bar, which stays open very late, offers tapas platters after the main dining room is closed.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The food can be inconsistent, especially on slow nights. This place would be better if it were closed one or two nights a week. The entrees are so large that it’s hard to construct a multi-course meal.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +2
- Live music some nights
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open most holidays
- Open after 10 p.m.
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Pay valet parking
- Reservations accepted