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Garlic crackling in olive oil, the smell of fresh picked basil, a pot of marinara simmering on the stove. If you crave the comforts of authentic Italian as often as I do, then feast your eyes on my feature for The Strong Buzz about Casa Nonna—a new Hell’s Kitchen trattoria that officially opened its doors today. Mangiamo!
There’s a new way to eat at Grandma’s house. Just head to Hell’s Kitchen, where recently opened Casa Nonna attempts to recreate the home cooked Italian experience. Following the success of their DC-based outpost of the same name (which pays homage to the Italian matriarch), ESquared Hospitality, the parent company of BLT Restaurant Group, introduces the Tuscan- and Roman-inspired trattoria to their rapidly growing portfolio.
Casa Nonna is far from a quaint cucina, but a sprawling 200-seat space boasting a generous bar area and two main dining rooms filled with brown leather banquettes, terra cotta floors, and walls adorned with vintage artwork and antique mirrors. At the center of it all is a sleek marble counter Pizza Bar, where you can enjoy a full view of the open kitchen and mosaic-tiled pizza oven.
Chef de Cuisine David Amorelli (formerly of davidburke & donatella) executes an accessible menu of seasonal specialties. Expect a selection of hot and cold antipasti, such as Sicilian sweet & sour eggplant ($6) and braised mini meatballs in marinara ($11), and daily house made pastas including orecchiette with broccoli raab and fennel sausage ($18) and gnocchi with lobster, chanterelles, pancetta and garlic greens ($28). Entrées of pan fried veal chop ($38) and whole grilled Mediterranean sea bass ($24) reflect traditional Italian favorites, yet Casa Nonna’s savory star seems to be the Neapolitan-style pizzas ($13-16) made from high quality ingredients and wood-fire cooked until piping hot, with a bubbly, charred crust.
For dolci, get sweet on Bomboloni sugar doughnuts soaked in Limoncello, white chocolate Affogato sprinkled with espresso, and an assortment of sorbetti (all $7). The wine list is exclusively Italian and includes 60 selections available by the quartino or bottle ($13-$135), while the cocktail menu offers classics with a twist, such as the CasaNova with Finlandia grapefruit vodka, Aperol, clover honey syrup and fresh orange and lemon juices ($13).
And if granny still hasn’t filled you up, sharing the space next door will be NYC’s second GO Burger location, serving burgers, hot dogs and shakes from a dedicated kiosk.
Casa Nonna is located at 310 W. 38th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Aves), 212-736-3000
Living and studying in Florence, Italy was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. Everything about this charming city—the people, culture, art, architecture, shopping and of course the delicious food and wine—was in a completely different league than anything I had been previously exposed to.
My first apartment in Florence looked out upon Piazza Pitti, a beautiful open square surrounded by the famous Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Throughout the day, locals and tourists alike would sit outside and sunbathe, read, shop at the adjacent street merchants or enjoy a cup of creamy gelato, while relaxing in this inviting courtyard. I was so fortunate to take in such a lovely sight everyday when I walked out my door.
It’s rare to find authentic fare in the States that can compare to the delicacies I became accustomed to while overseas—the Italians are truly masters of creating fresh, flavorful cuisine with a bit of love infused into every bite. While growing up, my two Grandmothers and Mom set the bar extremely high for what I consider great Italian food, and living in Florence only elevated it further.
I still hold Firenze very near to my heart and it will always be one of my favorite cities in the world. Whenever I long for those sun-kissed Tuscan days and want to reminisce about Italia, or my beloved piazza, I head down to Bar Pitti in the West Village.
While there, I feel like I’m in Tuscany all over again. Black and white images of Florence grace the golden-painted walls of the eatery’s cozy interior, which is jam-packed with wooden tables, but the restaurant’s true standout is the exceptional outdoor dining space. A chalkboard of daily specials extends the already enticing Mediterranean menu offerings, while the patrons and staff speak their country’s native tongue far more than any English (I love going places where I get to practice my Italian). Plus, this establishment is dog-friendly, so I can bring Cooper along while I dine alfresco.
Pasta and wine go hand-in-hand, but pasta in wine? This I had to try.
Chef Michael Chiarello celebrates the flavors of the West Coast in his new cookbook, Bottega, named after his latest Napa Valley restaurant. In his Zinfandel Spaghetti recipe, strings of pasta are simmered in red wine before being paired with broccoli rabe. Chiarello’s wine-steeping technique is so simple, yet adds to the flavor complexity of the dish (a delicate balance of salty, sweet, bitter & hearty) and really lets the essence of Napa shine—plus the deep purplish-reddish hue that the drunken strands take on is so striking!
I won’t typically post another person’s recipe as-is, since I like to whip up my own, but after diving into this wine-laden pasta, I wanted to share the love. I added a dash more red pepper flakes than called for since I like some heat, but as it stands, this dish is perfectly balanced, refined and was a beauty on my table.
Tip: Be sure to pick up two bottles of vino—one for the pasta and the other for drinking with dinner. The spaghetti can’t have all the fun! Salute!
Zinfandel Spaghetti (makes 4 to 6 servings)
Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (Chronicle Books)