Applauding a Mano

A long time ago in a land way out West, a friend of mine took me to a “hole-in-the-wall” Italian restaurant dubbed “John’s” where I was served, quite possibly, the best Linguine & Clams I have ever eaten. I distinctly recall devouring a gargantuan pile of hand-made linguine lovingly enveloped in a light, buttery, mollusk-rich sauce carrying chopped clam meat that clung delicately to each strand of pasta. It is to this memory that I hold up to every Italian-food experience…a standard which I hope each restaurant will meet, if not exceed. To be perfectly honest, most of the Italian restaurants I have tried in New Orleans simply do not measure up, at least they didn’t until I visited a Mano.

Located on the corner of Tchoupitoulas and St. Joseph, a Mano is another one of those wonderful restaurant creations masterminded by Chef Adolfo Garcia, along with Rio Mar and La Boca. I’ve enjoyed the wonderful tapas at Rio Mar and was duly excited to try a Mano for my 83rd cheat. I am still down a total of 79 pounds.

*Side note:  I am still struggling with my weight loss…obviously. It’s been standing still for too long (in my opinion) and I’ve become frustrated and irritable about it, so much so that I have done (and eaten) stupid things that don’t really help my situation. I wanted to let you all know that I have begun a routine of pilates three days a week and walking my dog every evening. I’m crossing my fingers the weight will start going down again…wish me luck!

John and I arrived at a Mano for lunch on Friday and noticed there were only three other tables filled with diners. We were seated at a corner table next to a window and immediately offered menus and drinks. After listening to the specials, John and I made our choices and, with gracious help from our server, selected a couple of glasses of wine to enjoy with our meal. John got a red wine, an ’07 Ciro Reserva Duca San Felice (my wine noobishness must be showing) and I had a white, an ’09 Greco di Tufo Devon. So, I don’t know squat about wine, but I know that I preferred John’s to my own, it had a wonderful flavor that reminded me of cherries and chocolate.

In the blink of an eye, our antipasti choices arrived. First we had the “Affettati Misti,” a charcuterie plate of house-cured meats like mortadella, prosciutto, salami and duck which we gobbled down promptly. Second, we opted for the day’s special, “Coppa di Testa” or a fried slice of hogshead cheese (made in-house, of course) topped with a sunny side-up egg and garnished with pickled peppers. With every wedge we cut, the yolk oozed over the meat and only made the dish more decadent . . . as if fried hogshead wasn’t enough.

For my entree, I selected the Squid-ink Cavatelli with crawfish, calamari and octopus in a light sauce of lemon, scallions and garlic. For the first time while eating pasta in New Orleans, I felt transported back to that fateful moment when I thought seafood pasta couldn’t get any better. The cavatelli was perfectly cooked, though shaped into corkscrews, but the dense, hearty consistency was still present and accounted for. Also, I thought the dish was visually stunning with the white and rose colored seafood standing sharply against the black, squid-ink color of the pasta.

John chose the “Buccatini all’ Amatriciana” with house-cured guanciale (bacon made from pig’s jowl or cheeks), pecorino cheese in a tomato sauce. We both loved the buccatini (my favorite type of spaghetti pasta, thick strands with a hole down the center) and the tomato sauce was so fresh and bright tasting, it was like garden tomatoes had gone straight from the vine into the sauce.

We finished off the meal with some cappuccinos and a slice of “Torta di Giandiua” — a fantastic flourless chocolate cake accented with hazelnuts, olive oil and sea salt. This a Mano experience exceeded my expectations and sent me reeling back into memories of other great Italian restaurants I’ve been privileged enough to visit in the past, a feat deserving of a standing ovation. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together in a rousing round of applause for a Mano.

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