ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
For me, all Italian food falls into two categories. There’s the cooking that blows me away every time I go to Italy, or to a few restaurants in this country. And then there’s everything else. I like the food in the latter category, but not nearly as much as I like the former. In New Orleans we only occasionally get the memorable stuff. Even when it appears, it has a way of morphing into Category Due. Del Porto is the only restaurant in the New Orleans area that has managed to keep that amazing, herbal, rustic, robust style of cooking over the long term.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
A strong contender for the title of Best Italian Restaurant in the New Orleans area. Del Porto’s food is influenced by Tuscany, as translated by California. That makes it quite different from other local Italian restaurants, even those that claim to serve Northern Italian food. Its Covington location insulates it from the powerful influence of the dominant Creole-Sicilian style of Italian cookery. To Orleanians who have never traveled to Italy, in fact, the food here might not seem Italian at all.
Del Porto’s style is all about grilling, roasting, olive oil, herbs, beans, and freshness. It’s not much about tomato sauces or melted cheese, and relatively little about pasta. The vivid freshness of the vegetables and the bold flavors of the meats and seafood permeate every dish. The cooking has a decidedly rustic style, with an easy-to-love deliciousness and originality. The wine collection is well-stocked with excellent and unusual Italian and California bottles.
David and Torre Salazzo came to the North Shore after graduating from culinary school and cooking in the California wine country, which has its own style of Tuscany-flavored Italian food. The restaurant opened in 2002 in a miniscule storefront a half-block from where it is now. After the hurricane, it moved a half-block away to a much more spacious, more visible corner location. And then it took off.
The dining room was formerly a St. Tammany Parish courts office, an airy square room with big windows on two sides and a small bar in the rear corner. The dim, subtle lighting at night makes the food look even more beautiful than it already is. A number of tables are set for service on the sidewalk when the weather is nice. A recent renovation added more dining room and kitchen space. The service staff is sophisticated and knowledgeable about both food and wine, and the bar makes very large cocktails well.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Yellowfin tuna crudo, oranges, mint, chili oil, citrus vinaigrette
Soup of the day
White bean & lemon-braised artichoke purée
Beef carpaccio, truffled crème fraîche, parmigiano reggiano
Crispy Berkshire pork belly, gulf shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, chili-orange vinaigrette
House-cured salumi board
Arugula salad, lemon vinaigrette, pecorino romano cheese
Caramelized mushrooms, baby spinach, frisée, ricotta salata
Half or whole portions
Cavatelli primavera, zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, spring peas, asparagus pesto, parmesan & pecorino cheeses
Artisan orecchiette, calamari, chilies, roasted red pepper broth
Tagliatelle, chanterelle mushrooms, truffled mushroom jus, pecorino cheese
Fish of the day
Grilled spice-rubbed bone-in pork chop, roasted potatoes
Berkshire pork osso bucco, summer bean stew, corn, roasted pepper salsa rosa
Garlic-rosemary half chicken, potatoes, braised artichokes
Grilled New York strip, fried new potatoes, garlic aioli
Flourless chocolate torte, local berries
Warm peach cristata, lemon mascarpone gelato
Italian wedding cake
Vanilla bean panna cotta, local berries
Gelato, toasted hazelnuts, fresh whipped cream
FOR BEST RESULTS
Make reservations late for in the evening, when the restaurant is less busy and the noise level lessens. The law-office crowd fills the bar for happy hour most nights. The best (quietest) tables are those farthest from the door on the right.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The acoustics are very lively, and when the restaurant is busy it can be noisy. At some point they’ll have to build a vestibule or add double doors to keep the cold wind from blowing in during the winter.
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
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Sidewalk tables
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations recommended