ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The fastest-expanding restaurant categories in our town are about pizza, barbecue, hamburgers and Pan-Asian concepts. Right behind those is, of all things, Sicilian food. One would think there is already plenty enough of that subset of Italian food, given that most people here with Italian roots trace their lines to Sicily. But those origins are over a century ago, and the cooking in Italy’s Deep South has diverged far from our versions of it.
Quite a few new restaurants explore this divide. Two of them, both born with in the past year, are next door to one another. The younger of them, Marcello’s, inspired the greater attention, largely due to a more interesting physical plant and an inspired wine program.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Even if you grew up in an Italian family with lots of cooks (is there any other kind?), you will find the menu at Marcello’s a nudge challenging. Although the names and descriptions of the dish are familiar, the way ingredients are put together and the flavors that result are novel. In most cases, this will be an advance beyond what you’re used to. Although not all the menu is Sicilian, and they don’t cover the entire range of Sicilian cooking (where are the pig’s feet?), most of the food here is very rewarding.
WHAT’S GOOD Local seafood plays a major role in the kitchen. No surprise: Sicily has a major tradition of seafood. This looms large in the starters, but is also well-represented in the entrees. Unusually, Marcello creates a buzz for its wines. There’s a wine list, but they invite you to pluck bottles from the racks lining the walls and separating the tables. Markups are those of a wine store–not the much higher standard in restaurants. No corkage fee. Not only is this a superlative value, but the format gets people moving around the room, where they often strike up conversations with other diners.
Marcello’s (pronounced the Italian way, “mar-CHELL-ohz”) opened in the spring of 2014. It took over the space left empty when Le Chat Noir–the much-missed cabaret–closed a year earlier. Marcello’s extends the Gallier Hall-area restaurant row (Herbsaint, Desi Vega’s, Chibignu and others) further up the streetcar line. The owners are Gene Todaro Sr. and Jr., who have had two restaurants in Lafayette.
The two dining rooms are approximately of equal size, but have different ambiance. The front room is brighter and livelier, with tall ceilings, interesting antiques, and the bar. The rear dining room is more intimate and dimmer, the racks of wine separating the tables. The servers hold entertaining discussions with customers, full of both knowledge and opinions.
Tomato basil soup
»Guappo salad (salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, pecorino, olive salad, artichokes, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and eggplant)
Lobster panzanella (bread salad with lobster, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber)
»Crab & fennel salad
Caprese salad (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil)
Insalata mista (greens, pecorino, olive salad, eggplant croutons) Sliced duck breast salad, gorgonzola, candied walnuts
Daily crudo, chef’s selection
»Steamed mussels, spicy saffron tomato broth
Sicilian eggplant caponata, fried goat cheese
Grilled long-stem artichokes, lemon basil aioli
Cerignola olives, house marinated
Truffled mac ‘n’ cheese, crispy panetta, penne
Calamari fritti, marinara, caper aioli
Zucchini fritters, sun-dried tomato aioli
Crabmeat contessa (tomatoes, caper aioli, fried eggplant)
»Seared sea scallops, fennel, arugula
Mario’s baked lasagna
»»Pasta Bolognese, rich meat sauce, meatballs, spaghetti
»Marsala pork cheek, mushrooms, veal demi glace, angel hair
Veal, chicken or eggplant Parmigiana
Chicken cacciatore (tomato sauce, root veggies, mushrooms, olives, pappardelle pasta)
Shrimp pepate (roasted garlic, crushed red pepper, pine nuts, linguini
Tritone (lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, spinach, mushrooms, sherry cream, linguini)
»Pesce del giorno, zucchini and squash fettuccine, saffron burro bianco
»Lamb ragu, lamb lollipops, pappardelle pasta, pancetta, Brussels sprouts
Pappardelle pasta, garlic, fennel, pancetta, Brussels sprouts, egg
Italian sausage, tricolore bell peppers, onions,
potatoes, olive oil, feta cheese
»Veal or chicken molli (scaloppine, sautéed, roasted
artichokes, lemon butter, capers)
Veal, chicken, or eggplant Palermo (tomatoes,
mushrooms, capers, lemon butter, angel hair)
»Breaded veal scaloppine alla Norma, eggplant, spicy garlic and tomato demi glace, anchovy and pine nuts, angel hair
Pollo arrosto (roasted half-chicken, saffron risotto, asparagus, caramelized lemon pan sauce)
»Cioppino (chef’s selection of seafood in fennel and tomato broth)
Fresh clams tossed with spaghetti
»A. O. C. (lump crabmeat, anchovies, olive oil, pine nuts, capers, spaghetti)
»Anna tutta panna (caramel pudding, vanilla whipped cream, amaretto, toasted almonds
Crema alla cioccolata
»Drunken bread pudding (chocolate wine, dried currants, cherries, white chocolate sauce)
Dolce del giorno
FOR BEST RESULTS
Spend more time than usual with the menu. Don’t take anything you read on the menu for granted, not even plates you think you know well. Ask for detailed descriptions.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Although for the most part the food here is a pleasure, it’s still too soon for all the cooking to have peaked. I’ve had a clinker at every meal, though nothing terrible. Prices can surprise you: how did that steak special make it to $54? That’s by far the highest number on the card.
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
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good for business meetings
- Open Monday lunch
- Open all afternoon
- Reservations recommended