Marcello's Wine Bar and Bistro
715 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans
THREE STARS(out of four)
The address for this new CBD restaurant was the theater Le Chat Noir for many years. That's not the only unusual aspect here. In the city with lots of Creole Italian food and more regional Italian restaurants, this one delves into a specific Sicilian Italian niche.
The old theater space has transitioned remarkably well to a restaurant. In the front a bright room lined with windows looks out on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line and there's a large marble top bar for drinks or quick meals. In the back, the main theater space has been given over to tables interspersed around well-stocked wine racks.
Service is confident and professional. Some of the waitstaff came from Marcello's other restaurant in Lafayette and were able to hit the ground running here. They are particularly good with wine recommendations, which is important given the unusual approach, as we'll see below.
Start with the grilled baby artichokes, cut in half and served with a bright aioli. Steamed mussels, fried calamari and lamb meatballs are good bets. The lobster panzanella salad is a good first course to share or can be a light entrée in its own right.
When in doubt, go for the familiar standards, the lasagna, the veal or chicken parmesan. They are done masterfully here. But I'd recommend getting into some deeper Sicilian specialties. The lamb ragu over pappardelle is excellent. Try the tritone, a seafood pasta with lobster, shrimp and crab in sherry cream sauce, and the clams with spaghetti, provided you have a taste for garlic. If you don't you probably shouldn't be here.
Not surprisingly, desserts are highly traditional. Tiramisu, beautiful chocolate mousse and Italian wedding cake are the main players.
There's a full bar, but it's the wine approach that really sets Marcello's apart. Those wine racks around the back room are not just for show. You browse the racks just like you would at a retail store, and the upshot is you pay only a little bit more thanyou would at retail. It encourages exploration of the deep list. There are hundreds of wines here.
Pricier then some of your Italian options, Marcello's is in line with fine dining. Most appetizers are in the teens, most entrees are in the high-$20 range. The wine prices tend even things out. A couple should expect to pay $120 for a full meal.
Very few dishes here will seem new or novel, but Marcello's presents them in a different light. The space is inviting and the wine approach is highly compelling. It's a good call for a romantic night out or a working lunch downtown.