Thursday, December 15, 2011

a Mano

Trio of Bruschetta
Ancora and High Hat may have been the most talked about restaurants in Adolfo Garcia's empire this year, but I have to say that my favorite meal of the year in the Adolfo empire came from a Mano. That's quite the sleeper pick coming from a guy who has been known to eat at La Boca twice in one week. Even more surprising (to me at least) is that I have never written extensively about a Mano, despite the fact that I have eaten there 6 times since the restaurant opened in October 2009. Better late than never.

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.
A table of four would be advised to share courses throughout the meal, so as to cover as much territory on the menu as possible. Which is how a daily special of braised veal cheeks arrived at my table one night, the long, slow cooking process resulting in a dish that was lip-smackingly tender without crossing the line into mush. Oxtail ragu with an incredible depth of flavor is paired with gnocchi of lineage I had never seen before, the three large triangular pillows were crisped in a pan, almost like polenta cakes but made with potato dough.

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
(504) 908-9280
Mon-Sat 6:00-10:00pm; Fri11:30am-2:00pm


Anonymous said...

had terrific food there, but service was so bad I don't want to go back; very arrogant and rude - probably just a bad night

kibbles said...

did not grab me like Domenica does. wish the pasta dishes were smaller and less expensive so they needn't be an entree. (I enjoy Eleven 79's half-portions)

will try again at some point...

willifred said...

I really like the rabbit leg, such a plain preperation, in a good way.

Peter said...


I have not had the same problems as you with service. Once during lunch I had to wait an exorbitant amount of time for a check, but the staff was overwhelmed with cardiologists from a convention down the street. I would give them another shot.


I asked myself which I prefer more (Domenica or a Mano), and it's tough to say because even though both focus on regional Italian, I feel like they go about things in a different way. I agree about the size of the pasta courses, which is why The Folk Singer and I usually order one to share.


Thanks for the tip on the rabbit leg. I need to try it out.

Kurt said...

My wife and I ate there during their tour of Italy series when they did the Abruzzo region. My wife's dad was born and raised there. The food was simple yet elegant. Best meal I had this year.