|Trio of Bruschetta|
A meal at a Mano might cause even the most staunch advocate of "New Orleans Italian" cuisine to swear off red gravy forever. I am being hyperbolic, of course, but like the Brothers Grimm, such an illustrative tale is indicative of how the kitchen at a Mano serves as a tour guide through regional Italian cuisine. Those fans of Domenica have been on this journey before, and both restaurants deserve credit for broadening our horizons beyond veal marsala, fettucini alfredo, and spaghetti marinara. (All dishes which have their place in our local dining scene.) Even though my personal travel experience in Italy is limited to the Cinque Terre, after every meal at a Mano I feel as though I have already tasted my through Emilia-Romagna, Umbira, and Puglia - places which I have only heard about through reruns of Molto Mario.
Meals begin with a complimentary basket of focaccia sprinkled with coarse sea salt and accompanied by olive oil poured into a small dish anchored by a few olives, herbs, and a clove of garlic. Olive fanatics can get an enormous jar of salty orbs too large for one person to eat by himself (no matter how hard I tried). A bottle of wine from the all Italian list, which has great depth and value with plenty of bottles in the $30-$50 range, and I could be content with ending the meal at that point.
But then I would be missing out on the trio of bruschetta, whose selections rotate with the seasons. The above pictured trio featured (from foreground to background): ciccioli (or scraps of leftover pig fat) accented with the sweetness of cherries, whipped lardo which was the equivalent of pork butter, and spicy ‘nduja with red pepper whose heat was not in the forefront but instead lingered on the tongue. Lovers of the art of cured meats can sample Kris Doll's prosciutto tasting ($18) or carpaccio ($60, a half dozen wide, thin slices of Wagyu beef dressed with a spicy giardiniera of sliced carrots and long string beans.
Pasta courses are small but priced accordingly. Gnudi are rich ricotta dumplings dressed simply with sage and brown butter. Spaghetti carbonara is smoky with chunks of pancetta. Hollow buccatini Amatriciana are tossed in a spicy tomato sauce loaded with guanciale. All of the pastas, save the gnudi, are firm and the sauces restrained to achieve balance; the sauce is as equally as important as the noodle, and vice versa.
|Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragu.|
The menu is in constant flux such that the exact same dish might not reappear on your next visit (for example, the aforementioned ragu might be made with goat and the gnudi swapped for orecchiette). Thankfully, the caponata is always available in some form or fashion, because it's presence on my table has become required ever since I became hooked on the sweet/tart/crunchy combination of eggplant, tomatoes, raisins, and pine nuts. Just another delicious stop along my travels through Italy via the Warehouse District.
a Mano - Birdie
870 Tchoupitoulas Street
Mon-Sat 6:00-10:00pm; Fri11:30am-2:00pm