A fun and romantic new Italian restaurant has opened in west Houston.
One of the things I love about Houston is that there is truly no “restaurant district” and there are great finds from one end of the town to the other.Some really excellent dining may be found in Houston’s west to far west side these days and I was envited by a friend to try a new Italian restaurant, Nardino Ristorante, a short drive out Westheimer near Highway 6. My first visit was to sample “signature” offerings suggested by the chef. My second was to try something I felt I missed on my first visit (duck… I love duck).Chef Edgar Ciliberto is one of those chefs with formal training late in his life (after he already had a firm basis for his culinary passion instilled in him by his grandmother in Venezuela, as well as many learning culinary trips to Italy).His formal training was in classic French cooking. Born in New Jersey, he was reared in Venezuela and was fascinated by the cooking of his grandmother, Elvira, who was married to an Italian-Venezuelan who immigrated to Venezuela in the 1920’s. What Ciliberto is offering are classic (and his own) recipes with very contemporary presentations.
Affetati Misti is a good place to start, although I was dining solo and this appetizer is the perfect size for two diners. Prosciutto Di Parma, Salami Calabrese, Salami Abruzzese, Sopressata, Gorgonzola (dolce), Pecorino Romano all are complemented by a small mixed green salad. It was nice… fresh… and a broad spectrum of tastes, textures and aromas.It was fun to toy with all of the elements while thinking about the next course.
Carpaccio di Manzo
I had Affetati Misti on my second visit, but thoroughly enjoyed the Carpaccio di Manzo (Beef Carpaccio) on my first visit.Very thin beef slices were dressed with a tangy garlic sauce and ribbons of Parmigiano Reggiano.It was the perfect starter for one.
Chef Edgar Ciliberto makes a Caesar salad tableside.
I can never resist Caesar Salads and as they are touted as a signature item on Nardino’s menu, I ordered one.Just as the original “Caesar’s” salads were made personally by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana in the 20’s, mine was made tableside by Chef Ciliberto.Just as the salads are made today where they were invented in Caesar’s Restaurant in Mexico, the Nardino version uses anchovies (the earliest versions of Caesar salad had no anchovies except the small amount that exists in the Lea & Perrins that is requisite for the salad).Ciliberto also uses bite-sized pieces of Romaine that Americans prefer and adds his “touch” of Tabasco Sauce… but just a hint.I believe I would always order this salad on subsequent visits, because it’s the real thing.
Tagliatelle alla Ruota
Chef Ciliberto’s dedication to enhancing the visual experience at Nardino is demonstrated by the tableside preparation of his creamy Tagliatelle alla Ruota, as he finishes the rich sauce by ceremoniously swirling the pasta in a hollow wheel of Parmegiano Reggiano.I’ve only seen this tableside presentation of pasta in a couple of Italian restaurants in Houston and when I have seen it in the past, it has always caused me to call round to my restaurateur friends to try to score a wheel for myself to use at a dinner party. I never succeeded in acquiring a wheel… but this flair in presentation is an example of Ciliberto’s passion for providing a well-rounded total dining experience to his guests. A romantic evening that includes the tableside preparation of this Tagliatelle and the Caesar salad would be a memorable evening for two lovers… and Nardino IS a romantic restaurant.
Involtini di Pollo
Easily the most visually captivating (and delicious) dishes on either visit here was the Involtini di Pollo, a tender scallopini of chicken stuffed with a moist mushroom Duxelle. As if the tender roulade wasn’t enough to excite you, it is served with creamy mashed potatoes that are whipped with a rich truffle butter that is topped with a generous shaving of aromatic truffles. The focus of this signature dish could easily be any one of these luxurious layers of taste.
Anatra con Cipolle Mermellata
I was interested in getting away from “signature” items and trying a personal favorite, so on my second visit, I ordered the Anatra con Cipolle Mermellata, a pan-seared duck breast with a sweet caramelized onion marmalade, glazed vegetables and roasted garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes (everything this guy does with a potato is tasty). All are served with a simple Marsala/Port reduction that makes one thankful that there is enough of it and the sweet onion marmalade to marry with every juicy bite of the crispy skinned medium-rare duck breast.
Pastry chef Luis Andujar shares Ciliberto’s flair for the dramatic (and his grandmother’s Tiramisu recipe) and its presentation, with sugar-dusted berries on the side, transforms a very traditional Italian cake into a delicious thing of beauty.
Chef Ciliberto’s brother operates Nardino Ristoranet in Madrid, in which he is a principal and creates the same menu. We will see and hear more of the Nardino Ristorante brand in Houston and elsewhere.
Nardino Ristorante is a short 20-minute drive from the Galleria and is directly across Westheimer from Macy’s, one block west of Highway 6. I don’t hesitate to recommend Nardino as a destination restaurant for the next romantic evening with your “significant other”.