October 20, 2013

Little Nonna's vs. The Nana Test

It's a food fight for the ages - Little Nonna’s vs. the Nana Test.

In case you live under a food rock, Little Nonna's is the new, highly-anticipated Italian restaurant from Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, proprietors of several brilliant places along 13th St. such as Barbuzzo and Jamonera.

Romantic outdoor seating behind Little Nonna's
The restaurant's name and menu are billed as being inspired by the home cooking of an Italian grandmother, "the Nonna." Sound familiar? It should be because it is as if Turney and Safran read our introduction to the Nana Test last October and came up with the marketing for Little Nonna’s. The concepts are just about a perfect match.

Talk about a match made in heaven for the Nana Test. Let’s see how Little Nonna’s fared.

Atmosphere: The details show just how much thought was put into Nonna's design. In the outside seating area, aprons and other items that my own grandmother would use hang on a clothesline. Every plate is from a different set of early 1900s china. The walls (especially in the restroom) are decorated with photos and memorabilia you'll remember gazing up at as a child. And the tables are situated to foster conversation, including a center picnic table for a large group outside. The atmosphere was not uptight for a place a step above a local BYOB. Only mild downer was our server, who didn’t have the charm or attentiveness of any grandmother I know. 4 out of 5 points

Simplicity: Little Nonna’s certainly lives up to the hype of homestyle cooking. Nothing is over-presented or cooked in a way to change age-old traditions that are already delicious. The Sunday Gravy was a humble and delicious mix of braciole and rigatoni, with incredible meatballs kept simple just like my Nana's. The signature dish is $24. 5 out of 5

Sunday Gravy comes in two plates...
first the rigatoni/braciole, then a bowl of meatballs. oh yeah.

The Sauce: Despite that last score, the Sunday Gravy sauce was good, but not out of this world. The larger issue was the amount of sauce. My Nana always gave way more sauce than needed because, well, can you ever have enough good sauce? Apparently Nonna did not. Kristy had the linguine vongole (clams), which was also good, but not great. It needed more sauce, too. If we had bread (I’ll get to that in minute), there was no extra sauce on our plates to dip it into, a major faux pas in the Nana Test. 3 out of 5.

Serving size and bread: No bread was provided for the table. You have to purchase it grilled for $2 or with garlic for $4. That’s right, at a place billed as home-style Italian cooking, bread is not included. I just can’t imagine that ever happening at one my family meals. EVER. 0 out of 5. ouch.

Antipasti: The antipasti had decent mix of meats, cheeses and vegetables. Both of us thought the two cheeses were lacking in flavor and forgettable, especially the small sample of gorgonzola. I would have liked some fresh tomatoes to go with the bread, which was a bit stale, too. The meats were delicious, though, and I liked the touch of beets. 3 out of 5.

Antipasti board - 3 meats, 2 cheeses, olives, bread, some grilled veggies...

The secret sambuca test: Little Nonna’s is not a BYOB so we didn’t ask. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and give them one half point for having sambuca on the menu, albeit for $10.

Final score: 15.5/25

Overall, Little Nonna’s makes high-quality Italian food (not Marc Vetri good though) and you should check it out. The atmosphere is inviting and price point is not outrageous. We've heard the kitchen bar is fun and we could recommend trying to score a seat outside while the weather permits.

However, the Nana Test deemed Little Nonna’s more marketing than actual reality when it comes to a true, home-cooked-by-your-grandmother Italian meal, so set your expectations appropriately. It just goes to show that you just can’t fool my Nana.

Linguine and clams - good, but you can see there isn't much sauce. 

Little Nonna's on Urbanspoon

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