ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Trying to think of a place for dinner recently, with the limitation that one of us didn’t want Italian, the three of us could think of nothing but Italian restaurants. We finally settled on an Italian restaurant that was just different enough from the standard to make it seem. . . well, not really Italian. Whatever that means. Avo’s take on Italian food is very new to the scene, having premiered only six months earlier. It wasn’t until we were deep into the meal before we saw that not only is Avo’s very Italian but very deep New Orleans-Italian roots.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Avo’s main selling point is its premises, a rebirth of the former Martinique restaurant and its hedge-surrounded, open-air courtyard. That part of the renovation was the deepest: it’s now a weatherproof dining room that nevertheless has an outdoor-dining feeling. If the weather is even remotely nice, they open all the big windows. The menu is different enough from any other in that part of restaurant-loaded Magazine Street to be attractive. You will walk past at least three restaurants between your parking space and Avo.
While a case could be made that no part of town needs more Italian restaurants, it’s also true that the regional cuisines of Italy other than those of Sicily, Naples and the lands between them aren’t well represented. Avo does little to change that. On the other hand, the number of possible variants of Sicilian cuisine may be infinite. Avo deviates from the standard lengthy Italian menu. One scan about covers the possibilities. The way the courses are broken down, along with the presence of many dishes that require explanation creates the illusion of depth.
Owner Nick Lama is a fourth-generation Sicilian-Orleanian, and proud to be. His family operated the famous seafood emporium in the old St. Roch Market. He is rightly proud of this, a feeling that starts with the restaurant’s name, which means “grandfather.” Immediately before opening Avo, Nick was the chef de cuisine at Gautreau’s. The restaurant itself had a good run as Martinique, under the management of Christiano’s of Houma, which still owns the building.
The courtyard is by far the preferred dining area. Either a reservation or a long wait is essential for getting a table there. The smaller, less atmospheric but pleasant enough indoor dining room has been deeply renovated, with a new bar, The service staff has been exceptionally deft since the beginning, and is as conversant about the fine points of the wines as for the food.
More ruminations appear in our Dining Diary. Click on any of the dates below for those reports, each written a few days after a meal at Avo.
The menu changes deeply and frequently. Here is the card in use on November 3, 2015.
Polpette (pork & beef meatball, soffritto)
Cheese & charcuterie board
Hamachi crudo (sashimi Italian style, with orange, fennel, lemon granita, radish, garlic chips)
Gnocchi alla Romano, wild mushrooms, Fontana cheese
Charred octopus, lardo, eggplant, cranberries, black garlic
Bruschetta del giorno
Soup del giorno
Burrata salad, grilled pears, prosciutto, arugula, balsamic
Apple salad, grapes, radicchio, endive, romaine, gorgonzola, red onion, apple cider vinaigrette
Hearts of palm salad, avocado, citrus, charred cucumber, basil, parmesan, orange-herb vinaigrette
Linguine & clams
Lasagne, beef short rib ragu, mushrooms, béchamel
Pumpkin ravioli, sage brown butter, ricotta salata
Squid ink giglio (flower-shaped pasta, jumbo lump crab, chili, green onion
Pork shank, herbed spaetzle noodles, orange, cider-braised cabbage
Chicken cacciatore, Tuscan black rice, mushrooms, cipollini onion, olives
Ribeye steak, cannellini beans, rapini, vincotto
Cioppino (mussels, clams, shrimp, fish, scallop, tomato-fennel broth)
Snapper, parsnip purée, grilled escarole, carrots, pomegranate gremolata
Scallops, smoked mussels, Brussels sprouts, onion soubise, almonds, pea shoots
Banana zuppa inglese (English trifle)
Chocolate & espresso budino, pistachio biscotti, meringue
Zeppole (Italian beignet, chocolate hazelnut, blackberry almond, coconut caramel)
FOR BEST RESULTS
The kitchen veers far enough from the classic definitions of many of its dishes that you should ask a lot of questions. For example, a special offered as a ragu had none of the falling-apart tenderness and richness of the standard ragu.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
I found almost everything I’ve had here low in seasoning. I know they’re trying for a new flavor pallette, but some dishes are in desperate need of some Parmesan cheese, to a degree more important than the imperative for creating new culinary approaches.
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 +2
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Courtyard or deck dining
- Open Monday dinner
- Difficult curbside parking. Security guard on duty.
- Reservations accepted