NEW ORLEANS -- Chef Nick Lama's Uptown Italian restaurant is something special. This is high-end Italian at its best, with robust flavor, artful presentations and real personality.
5908 Magazine St., 504-509-6550
This address will be familiar to many as the long time home of Martinique Bistro. The interior dining room feels different now, with a larger bar and a little more space all around. But as before, the main feature is the courtyard with a retractable roof, which is highly versatile for our weather. The setting is beautiful, seductive, but still casual.
Chef Nick's menu makes a powerful case for a four-course meal: appetizer, pasta, entrée, dessert. Let's start with the appetizers. Lots of restaurants serve octopus, but this one is definitive. It's a plump charred curl with seasonal fruit and herbs and oils. The tuna crudo is equally impressive. You won't go wrong with the meatballs, fat and juicy, or one of the salads, especially when the stuffed squash blossoms are available.
The pastas are excellent and can definitely count as a main course, though they do lend themselves better to be a between course, in the traditional style. Particularly recommended are the fettuccine with rabbit and the bucatini carbonara, both for the texture of the noodles and the heartiness of the sauce.
Entrées tend to be less traditional, but still feel at home on this contemporary Italian menu. The best take a less-is-more approach, like the scallops with dabs of avocado crema and salsa rosa. Veal Milanese, pounded thin and breaded, is augmented with cherries and herbs and olives. And shrimp and pork cheeks are interspersed with eggplant and sour-sweet sauce.
The dessert list is short and straightforward. Zeppoles, with chocolate sauce and ice cream, is the crowd pleaser. Panna cotta is there for more mellow finales.
The full bar makes original cocktails, and pours an impressive variety of wines from an all-Italian list.
Expensive though not exorbitant, Avo has most appetizers and entrees in the mid-teens and entrees in the high twenties. A couple should expect to pay $140 or so for dinner with drinks.
Original, exciting and still well grounded, Avo is a highly impressive new addition to the New Orleans restaurant scene. Come for a special date or bring a group when you feel like celebrating.