Mandina's on Canal Street in New Orleans seems like a throwback to my past. It reminds me of Pompilios in Newport, Kentucky, where my family dined on a regular basis in my youth. As Yogi Berra would say, it's déjà vu all over again.
Sure, it'll cost a few euros more than the place around the corner that sells Nutella crepes, but you'll continue your day of tourism with the happy feeling that lunch was almost as beautiful as the Villa d'Este itself.
As a travel writer whose inbox is always jam-packed with profound and deeply moving press releases, it started me thinking. Wasn't it high time that the finest of these works earned the recognition they deserve?
What makes a great Italian restaurant anyway? For some it may be the antipasti. For others some combination of how good the wines and pastas are. Holding up one dish is dangerous. Octopus? Lasagna? Cacio e pepe?
Our Family Style feast was incredible. We ordered nothing, and ate everything. Pasta, vegetables, meats, cheeses, tomatoes -- each simple dish was more sumptuous than the last, the ingredients fresh and colorful as a box of crayons.
When is a neighborhood Italian restaurant more than a neighborhood Italian restaurant? When people travel from all over the city to eat there. The ultimate "neighborhood restaurant that isn't" is Locanda Portofino.