Chef Nick Lama opened his Italian restaurant Avo (5908 Magazine St., 504-509-6550; www.restaurantavo.com) May 20 in the former Martinique Bistro space. A great-grandson of Sicilian immigrants, Lama describes his food as "regional Italian cuisine with an emphasis on fresh and local ingredients.
"I'm trying to get ingredients that have been grown as close to here as possible," Lama says. "I think that's the thing with good Italian food — it's food made with local ingredients that are fresh and prepared in a very simple way so the ingredients really stand out."
Born and raised in New Orleans, Lama grew up in the kitchens of his parents and grandparents. Lama's father owned and ran the St. Roch Market until Hurricane Katrina, selling seafood there and at his other two restaurants on the Northshore and in Bucktown.
"I grew up loving cooking food, always being around people who cooked," Lama says. "Food was a big part of my family."
Lama's new restaurant pays homage to his family not just in name — "avo" means ancestor, or grandfather in Italian — but in the large, black-and-white portraits of his parents and grandparents hanging inside the dining room, above a cobalt blue banquette.
After receiving a degree in finance, Lama followed in his family's footsteps and began cooking at Muriel's before attaining a culinary degree and working at restaurants such as Gautreau's, where he worked as chef de cuisine until recently, when the Martinique space became available.
The ivy-covered brick walls and outside courtyard sold him on the space.
"I knew we needed an outdoor space, and the courtyard is just amazing and very romantic," Lama says.
Avo's menu reflects Lama's modest approach and most dishes focus on four or five ingredients. Grilled artichokes are served with lemon caper aioli and gremolata; burrata is topped with slices of prosciutto, grilled peaches, arugula and vanilla syrup. Pork Milanese is paired with red wine-braised turnips, Swiss chard and salsa verde, and hanger steak is served with grilled eggplant caponata, fennel onion marmalade and aged balsamic vinegar.
House-made pasta features prominently on the menu and dishes include an herb spaghetti tossed with sausage, clams and chilis and a rigatoni dish served with smashed peas, pancetta, ricotta salata and fresh mint.
Avo's wine list is entirely Italian, with bottles ranging from $40 to $90.
The restaurant serves dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday. Brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. — HELEN FREUND