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.
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.
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.
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.