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NOLA Italia 

Enjoying an evening of European surroundings, delectable Italian food and an aria or two may sound like it would involve plane fare and a trip to Venice's famed opera house, the Gran Teatro La Fenice. But it's all available at a single local destination, Café Giovanni (117 Decatur St., 529-2154; in the French Quarter.

Owned and run by Chef Duke LoCicero, a New Orleans native who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and honed his talents in top restaurants all over the world, Café Giovanni is more than just a place to eat. It's an experience.

'It's not just going out and having dinner," LoCicero says. 'We have a beautiful lounge where you can listen to Frank Sinatra and have a good martini and have a great dinner in the dining room." Three nights a week, dining at Café Giovanni also comes with entertainment. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, customers can enjoy opera, Sinatra, show tunes and requests, all performed by professional opera singers.

'I wanted to do something a little more classy, a step above," LoCicero says of his concept for the restaurant, which opened 16 years ago. LoCicero's brand of New World Italian cuisine " a combination of fresh ingredients and American, French, Italian, Creole and other styles presented with unique culinary artistry " has been recognized with several awards over the years, including the Louisiana Restaurant Association's 2004 Restaurant of the Year and the New Orleans chapter of the American Culinary Federation's Chef of the Year 1999.

Popular dishes include duck classico, roasted duck with a sweet marsala-roasted garlic glaze and mashed potatoes; and Oysters Giovanni, flash-fried oysters with a variety of sauces. Together, the romantic ambience of the restaurant's Belli Baci Lounge, the welcoming warmth of the dining room, which seats 150, the innovative cuisine, and the musical entertainment make Café Giovanni a suitable venue for everything from nightly dining to special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and rehearsal dinners.

'It's like a neighborhood restaurant with a tuxedo on it," says LoCicero, who also hosts a Saturday radio program, Dig In With Chef Duke on WWL 1350 AM, and heads up the charitable Chef Duke's Foundation For Kids, which raises funds for children in difficult emotional and financial circumstances.

click to enlarge Chef Duke LoCicero, owner of Caf Giovanni, brings his "New World Italian Cuisine' to diners nightly.
  • Chef Duke LoCicero, owner of Caf Giovanni, brings his "New World Italian Cuisine' to diners nightly.


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