Italian American Digest DIGEST Winter 2017 Final - Page 24

I talian A merican D igest PAGE 24 WINTER 2017 Leonardo’s Is a Little Slice of Heaven in Mandeville L by Laura Guccione a cucina piccola fa la casa grande—“A little kitchen makes a large home.” This old Sicilian proverb is certainly true in the case of the recently opened Leonardo’s, a cozy little trattoria located in a nondescript strip mall in Mandeville; a small, warm, and friendly place doing great, authentic, and relatively simple Italian regional cuisine. It is an unassuming gem of a res- taurant, but don’t let the location fool you: this is not your typical pizza joint. The super-reasonably priced food is delicious, and once you settle in, it feels like you’re at your nonna’s house having Sunday dinner. Owned and operated by Chef Leonardo Gia- rraputo, a born-and-raised Siciliano from the village of Santa Margherita de Belice where his parents still live and own two restaurants and the oldest coffee bar in town. Before his recent move to Louisiana, he was a chef at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Fla. The wine list is not extensive but concise, affordable, and with a few surprises such as the house red, Nero d’Avola, one of Sicily’s most important wines; sweetly tannic and jammy, it pairs perfectly with most, if not all, of the menu. There is also an Amarone, a Barolo, and a harder- to-find light and delicate white that I love, Falanghina. We jumped right in with a delightful glass of the Nero d’Avola. Fruity and full-bodied, it complemented our appetizers nicely. We then decided to share a bottle of the crisply acidic Falanghina to go with the rest of our meal. We chose one of the pizzas and the antipasto plate for starters. The extra- fresh and simply delicious antipasto was delivered quickly, thankfully, because after the drive across the Causeway, and a 30-minute wait for our table, we were hungry. There were some slices of salami and pro- The antipasto plate at Leonardo’s Trattoria includes salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, olives, red bell peppers, and eggplant. Leonardo’s Trattoria and Pizzeria 2625 Florida Street Mandeville, La. (985) 778.2550 The salmon carpaccio at Leonardo’s Trattoria is smoked, blended with red onions, capers, and lemon juice, and served on toasted slices of bread. sciutto with grilled red bell peppers, two kinds of olives (shiny black ones and large, bright green Cerignolas), eggplant marinated and grilled, some seasoned artichoke hearts, and a nice round chunk of Vastella, a wonder- fully fragrant and intensely flavorful sheep’s milk cheese from the Belice River valley. It is touches like these that make Leonardo’s so special. ­Mr. Giarraputo travels to Italy frequently and has built relationships with producers of local, traditional prod- ucts, such as the olive oil he uses—it comes from Castelvetrano and is a high-quality, highly prized olive oil that has a sweet, buttery flavor. Along with the fresh, crusty bread, this was a mini feast for the senses. The pizza Venziana featured roast- ed cherry tomatoes instead of the standard red sauce, arugula, prosciut- to, and a generous shaving of Parme- san. This was Italian-style pizza, thin, crispy and not doused with sauce. It was subtle but the flavors were all there, especially the thinly sliced prosciutto added after cooking. We also had calamari, which were lightly fried so the squid remained tender and not chewy at all. It was served with a lemon wedge and a small bowl of their marinara sauce. The salmon carpaccio was not carpaccio in the classic sense. The salmon was smoked, chopped, and blended with red onions, capers, and lemon juice and served on toasted slices of bread. It was good and a nice play on the original. Rigatoni alla Norma is a tough dish to produce decently, but the chef definitely knew what he was doing. This classic Sicilian dish combines eggplant with light tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and ricotta salata tossed with house-made fresh pasta. The simplicity of the ingredients neglects to show how complicated the dish can be. The eggplant was lightly fried, not too greasy, and the pieces were tender but pronounced with just enough mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese tossed in to a creamy rich consistency. The gnocchi were beautiful, fluffy and not chewy but delicate and paired well with the tart house mari- nara. The sauce was not too sweet or heavy like many sauces found in New Orleans and the surrounding area. It was more like the sauces I’ve had in Sicily, lighter and thinner, with bits of basil scattered through- out. Sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, the dish was simple but satisfying. The gnocchi were the centerpiece of the entree, as they should be. The pastas are made on site, and you can taste the difference with the tooth feel and the flavor. The pasta is not a mere side addition but genu- inely a part of the flavors and pre- Leonardo’s cont. on next page