Last Updated on Sunday, 17 April 2011 07:30
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
The North Shore has never had many gourmet bistros along the lines of those Uptown. This one is the most successful and most reliable, pairing an engaging environment and an easy style with cooking that ranges from the familiar to the quirky and unique.
WHY IT'S GOOD
Chef Thomas Smith's fresh-tasting, light style of Creole cooking takes over more and more of the menu every day, and as it does so grabs new attention from North Shore diners. The seafood dishes are especially appealing, with seemingly-similar dishes each having their own unique flavors. This is a particularly good place in which to construct an all-appetizer dinner.
The brick main building is over a century old, for most of that time the general store for Old Mandeville. It was renovated into a restaurant in 1984 by Paul Murphy, the owners of Jacmel Inn in Hammond. Originally Nuvolari's (named for 1930s Italian racecar driver Tazio Nuvolari) was an Italian restaurant, albeit with an inventive, contemporary collection of dishes. Over the years its chefs emphasized Creole cooking in their specials. After the hurricane (which did only a little damage to the restaurant), managing partner Wally Simmons and chef Thomas Smith reopened with a short, menu of specials in lieu of the big old main menu. It was so well received that they never went back to the old style. The best of the restaurant's signature dishes remained, but now the menu is revised daily, and not much of it is Italian anymore.
The split-level main dining room is reminiscent of the concept restaurants of the 1970s, but it has a comfortable, casual style. Wood railings and windowed panels divide the big space into more intimate areas. The second dining room is more modern and formal. The bar--presided over personally by manager Wally Simmons--has its own life force, busy and happy.
»Fried oysters and Brie with spinach.
»Steamed mussels with coconut red curry.
»Italian style whole shrimp (like barbecue shrimp, but a bit more herbal).
»Escargots and crawfish tails in demi-glace sauce.
Asparagus and crabmeat salad.
»Pan-roasted Gulf fish with asparagus, smoked mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes.
»Grilled redfish with wild rice, pecans, green beans, and crabmeat.
Bread-crumb-crusted sea scallops with risotto.
»Roast duck with cherries and green peppercorns.
Filet mignon bordelaise.
»Lamb chops with jalapeno glaze.
»White chocolate cheesecake.
FOR BEST RESULTS
The entrees here are of such a size that it's uncomfortable to have two preliminary courses. Check the blackboard near the entrance for wine specials.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The wine list, once very interesting, needs beefing up. The main dining room is looking a little worn; it's overdue for a renovation.
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 +1
- Consistency +2
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Small private room
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
An interestingly-reconstructed old brick store in the heart of Old Mandeville has long been one of the most appealing and engaging restaurant on the North Shore. The place is reminiscent of a concept restaurant, but is really a thoroughly local operation in both management and style. The dining room is sparated by dividers and split levels into small areas. The bar is not only well attended, but serves interesting wines by the glass. Tazio Nuvolari was a famous Italian racecar driver, and that’s the end of that story. Nuvolari's has performed a welcome and very much overdue renovation of its menu in recent months. Its food had become a bit humdrum, but now they've caught up with the local tastes. The old favorites are still there: the escargots and shrimp, the spinachy veal parmigiana, the roast duck with cherries and peppercorns. Meanwhile, the new dishes--particularly the completely unpredictable list of nightly specials--offer some intriguing new flavors. The revival is good news. This is too engaging a restaurant to be left behind. The service staff and the wine list remain among the best on the North Shore, and enough little touches make you want to love dining there.