Sometimes, even with all the recommendations and research in the world, it can be difficult to choose a restaurant.
And, then, sometimes a restaurant will make the choice for you.
In the course of one day, a friend mentioned a Mano in New Orleans. I flipped open my Bon Appetit while on the plane…to New Orleans…and came across a short review of the place. And, then, after a long day of interviews and meetings (without lunch or dinner) I finally checked into my hotel and asked directions to the nearest restaurant on my list. Not a Mano.
But wouldn’t you know, as I approached the corner where I would make the final turn to arrive at my destination, I looked up, and there it was. A sign that said a Mano. A peak in the windows showed a dining room that was full of people, even after 8 pm on a Tuesday night. And the decision was made.
My co-worker and I went in to meet our food destiny.
We found it in the form of some great recommendations from our hostess/server, who took one look at us and seemed to know we needed sustenance, and fast.
She started us off with a bit of focaccia and olive oil—the real thing, with olives and roasted garlic accompanying the oil. A full wine list offered specialty cocktails and wines by the glass or bottle. The menu called out its support for local farmers and farmers’ markets. By the time we had read it, we were full of questions, all of which she answered with competence and enthusiasm for the food.
After debating the relative merits of Buccatini over Orecchiette, and of rabbit liver pate versus a salad of octopus, shrimp and squid, we settled on a starter of Crostini di Burrata e Caponata, which turned out to be two large crusty pieces piled high with an eggplant caponata, burrata cheese and pine nuts. The flavor was slightly sweet and memorable, just what we needed to forget the cares of the day.
We went on to the pasta, going with the Gnudi con Funghi, Burro e Salvia—Spinach and ricotta dumplings with local shitake mushrooms and a delectable brown butter sauce over the top. And I do mean over the top—it was a great flavor, very lick-the-plate-clean flavor. We also tried the Orecchiette con Salsiccia, Fagioli, e Cavolo and were treated to some of the fennel sausage, cured in-house, plus beans and Tuscan kale that provided just the right balance. I think it’s addictive; it took six bites before I slowed down and remembered to breath.
We passed on dessert but only because, given the late hour, the Affogato was no longer available (espresso over gelato—it doesn’t get any more decadent).
A Mano is Italian food the traditional way, without sauces, but with flavor that cries out to be eaten. It’s located in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, with all the ambiance that goes along with that location. Brick walls, concrete floors, old beams and low lighting.
It was a good choice. And, with enough time and coincidence, one I’ll be making again.