An Auspicious Dinner at Nardino Ristorante

Categories: On the Menu

Carpaccio.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
Beef Carpaccio.
I am usually not one to predict the future. When it comes to prognostication, I am far too conservative and neurotic to articulate publicly my thoughts on upcoming fads, fashions, movements, etc. Seriously, identifying the Big Cupcake as a 2012 food trend was really going out on a limb for me.

But one of my New Year's resolutions was to take more risks, and so now I going to issue one more prediction. There are great things in store for Chef Edgar Ciliberto. And readers, there are, in turn, great things in store for you when you visit his restaurant, Nardino.

Nardino actually has two locations (Houston and Madrid), but I suggest visiting the former to save yourself some money and jet-lag. The local venue may not be within walking distance of the Prado, but its dark wood and red interior with arched cream and black chairs is an art piece in and of itself.

In many ways, Nardino is modeled after the traditional Tuscan ristorante, with a strong emphasis on Northern Italian cuisine. However, the bold interior design combined with ethereal presentation suggests a sort of otherworldly quality. One feels transported, but not necessarily to the "real" Europe; rather, to an elegant, postmodern vision of The Continent. Which is just fine with me, because I don't need to be reminded about the euro debt crisis during dinner.

Nardino Caesar.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
A Handily Prepared Caesar Salad.
Painstaking, artful construction is unsurprisingly the name of the game when it comes to the food. I started with an appetizer of beef carpaccio, inordinately thin slices of beef dressed with an aromatic garlic sauce and dusted with flecks of parmigiano reggiano.

The small Caesar that followed made me think twice about writing off this classic as pedestrian. Mixed tableside, the Nardino Caesar is fishier than your standard version, and I definitely don't mean that in the pejorative. The dressing is heavily infused with anchovies as well as eggs, but several squeezes of fresh lime juice balance these richer flavors with lighter citrus notes.

Cheese Wheel Nardino.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
From this cheese pit, only good things emerge.
We had ordered the Tagliatelle Alla Ruota for our primi course, and even though I knew its sauce, too, was prepared tableside, I was still confused when our server carted a giant cheese wheel next to our table (obviously, I need to work on my Italian).

Although I've had such larger-than-life cheeses at deli counters and specialty shops, I had always been under the impression they were mostly for display or decoration. At Nardino, such wheels are made into mixing vessels for pasta, e.g., the homemade tagaliatelle. After dumping a whole heedful of al dente noodles into the gutted cheese, our server stirred in some more cream, pepper, and other seasonings.

In an earlier post on edible food implements, I wrote about how one of the many joys of soup in a bread bowl was the co-mingling of dough with soup that occurs as one spoons the sides of the "bowl." A similar effect was produced by vigorously churning the pasta and sauce against the walls of wheel, for when I received my plate I noted curds and larger bits of cheese clung stubbornly to the tagliatelle. The taste, needless to say, was stupendous.

Tagliatelle.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
Tagliatelle Alla Ruota.
After that course I wanted to jump inside that cheese, or at least procure one of my own to replicate the dish at home. If you are similarly inclined after reading this post, be forewarned that such wheels are expensive. Probably cheaper just to eat at Nardino.

"Pace yourself," is usually my mantra for long-distance running and multi-course dining. Unfortunately, that evening, I allowed gluttony to get the best of me, scarfing down all of my primi and leaving just a little room for my secondi. Pity the fool (me), because the involtini di pollo, a tender scallopini stuffed with duxelles, dusted with black truffles, resting in a striking marsala sauce with parmesan mashed potatoes, was a lovely counterbalance to the more straight-forward tagliatelle.

nardino pollo.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
Mushroom couplet (bruxelles and truffles) in the Involtini di Pollo.
Funny how drinking a good wine (Nardino's suggested pairings are excellent) can actually make some room in a seemingly full stomach. Despite my not-so-demure protestations of impending belly explosion, I was still able to enjoy some tiramisu, named for the chef's "nonna."

While many chefs will bat their eyes and credit their loving grandmother's recipe when they serve you desserts, and sometimes after a few bites you wonder if Grandma was A) a world-class pastry chef way ahead of her time and/or B) trying to poison her grandchildren, that wasn't the case here. This tiramisu was a pleasantly simple layering of cream and ladyfingers, and thankfully devoid of any bells and whistles.

tiramisu.jpg
Photo by Nardino Ristorante.
Tiramisu with "la ricette della [Chef Edgar's] nonna."
When I look into my gastronomic crystal ball, I see success for Nardino and particularly Chef Ciliberto. His warm demeanor, creativity, and culinary precision suggest a potential for industry dominance. And while I would not stake the life of my first-born on these claims, I am certain that more dinners at Nardino are on my horizon.



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Location Info

Nardino Ristorante - CLOSED

14800 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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6 comments
Lee7129
Lee7129

We have been to Nardino's twice now. Our first visit was on a Friday evening where we enjoyed not only the delightful food but the live music and the wonderful personality of our waitress. The homemade unique ravioli were wonderful. Our next visit was on a Tuesday evening. We enjoyed the fantastic flavor of the Ceasar salad and share skillfully crafted pizza. Wonderful food, nice atmosphere and friendly staff – What more do you need. I am telling everyone that it is worth trying. They will not be disappointed.

Pvhouston
Pvhouston

I never heard of this place but after reading this I checked it out and two things ticked me off. A tiramisu prepared a la nonna with cream(?!). What happened to Mascarpone??And on their menu online they offer Vitello Tonnato as a traditional antipasto, but translate it as beef slices with cover of tuna and capers. Vitello means veal in Italian, so where is the veal?

Tim
Tim

"inordinately thin"  That intensifier doesn't mean what you think it does.

Joanna
Joanna

Dear Pvhouston,

Thanks for both corrections. I miswrote and did indeed mean "cream" to modify mascarpone.

And Nardino Ristorante, thank you for your response!

Joanna

Nardino Ristorante
Nardino Ristorante

Pvhouston,

Your are so right Vitello means veal in Italian; the website has been corrected to reflect the right protein. Thank you for the catch...

The "Tiramisu della Nonna" (Grandmother's Tiramisu) has a lot of Mascarpone Cheese indeed, however I guess Joanna means is creamy in texture.

Regards,Nardino Ristorante

Nardino Ristorante
Nardino Ristorante

Pvhouston,

Your are so right Vitello means veal in Italian; the website has been corrected to reflect the right protein. Thank you for the catch...

The "Tiramisu della Nonna" (Grandmother's Tiramisu) has a lot of Mascarpone Cheese indeed, however I guess Joanna means is creamy in texture.

Regards,Nardino Ristorante

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