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Il Posto Italian Cafe 

Simple elegance and Italian flavors define a backstreet cafe

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The Uptown address Il Posto Italian Cafe calls home was once used as a yoga studio. If it's possible some of the accumulated Om from those days has lingered, that might help explain the feeling of balance that runs through the place. It elevates a rather simple menu of Italian-style sandwiches, salads, dips and cheese plates into something worth seeking out from across town.

  We're talking about antipasto collections no more complex than a pile of proscuitto, a bowl of olives, some beets, orange slices and a wedge of Taleggio cheese. Or dessert made entirely from hot slices of ciabatta smeared with Nutella from the jar, garnished with berries and served on a cutting board. It all comes together at Il Posto in an ambience somewhere between elegant and homespun.

  New Orleans native Madison Curry opened Il Posto — Italian for "the place" — late in 2007. Before starting her first business, she worked at St. James Cheese Co., the Uptown shop that is now her prime supplier. I'm sure St. James gives all its clients the same shake, but Curry's familiarity certainly couldn't have hurt when she wrote a cafe menu focusing primarily on imported salumi and Italian cheeses. So, to the possible influence of Om in Il Posto's appeal, add the very concrete evidence of great ingredients.

  Beets and walnuts with greens and the classic Caprese salad are popular, but Il Posto's most interesting salad features a curling layer of bresaola — thin, lean, deep-purple slices of air-cured beef. The Italian hero is my favorite on the panino list — probably because it has the most going on inside with slices of spicy red sopressata and smooth mortadella, a melted coat of nutty Fontina cheese and balsamic dressing cutting through it all.

  The rest of the panini essentially subtract or recombine these main ingredients, with the occasional addition of red peppers and vivid pesto. The only sandwich that fell flat was the muffuletta, a frequent special, and I pin the disappoint primarily on an overly polite olive salad lacking garlic oomph.

  The grilled cheese sandwiches are simply done with primo ingredients, starting with local La Boulangerie ciabatta, which has a buttery edge and compresses beautifully in the heated press. There is a whole list of grilled cheeses, and if some seem pretty minimal on their own, just pair them with a version of the sandwich's classic running partner — a cup of tomato soup, this one with roasted tomato flavor and a fresh basil bouquet.

  Breakfast goes at a brisk, off-to-work pace and consists of handy bagel sandwiches or bowls of granola and yogurt. Most of all, Il Posto is a lunch place, and the sandwich-and-salad menu and 9 p.m. closing time lend only to quick and casual evening meals. Wednesday evenings are the exception, however. That's when the cafe hosts a jazz guitarist and puts communal platters of free hors d'oeuvres on the counter to pick at, like one night's bruschetta and charred Brussels sprouts. Sometimes Curry herself sings a few numbers in her apron and rolled sleeves, showing she can handle a tune as well as a deli slicer.

WHAT

Il Posto Italian Cafe

WHERE

4607 Dryades St., 895-2620; www.ilpostocafe-nola.com

WHEN

Breakfast and lunch Tue.-Sun., dinner Tue.-Sat.

RESERVATIONS

Not accepted

HOW MUCH

Inexpensive

WHAT WORKS

Beautiful sandwiches and salads, great coffee

WHAT DOESN'T

The menu is specialized but could use greater variety.

CHECK, PLEASE

An alluring Uptown spot for a quick lunch or casual dinner

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