One of my (SP) favorite best-kept-secret kind of restaurants is a pair of Italian restaurants in Lilydale, Buon Giorno pasta bar and Osteria I Nonni. While Buon Giorno provides an amazing Italian marketplace along with deli and pasta bar, the fancy stuff is left to I Nonni. It’s the kind of place that has won readers’ choice awards for its food, its wine list, and its atmosphere with high vaulted ceilings and Italian decor.
The food is where I think I Nonni really shines. (Side note: The wine is still great, with a huge list of amazing Italian wines; however, AK and I are not particularly wine drinkers). We started ourselves out with some Calamari Fritti and Arancini. Most Italian places will have some kind of calamari, but I Nonni hits an immediate homerun with soft, buttery squid in the most light batter for the best kind of crunch. Salty perfection. Arancini are essentially fried risotto balls served in a meaty ragu. It’s super good.
This is where the options come in: I Nonni, as many classy restaurants do, has a tasting menu option where you pick your antipasti (mostly salads), primi piatti, and secondi. AK had an amazing caprese, which can really make or break an Italian restaurant. Sweet tuscan oil and basil over local tomatoes and fresh mozzarella with just a tinge of saltiness. I ordered the lonza di maiale salad: thin-sliced pork loin with greens, apples, cherries, and onions. Oh, and a handful of lovely shredded parmigiano on top. All of the sweetness and saltiness just made this a salad that goes above and beyond.
At this point, we probably could have gone home and been happy with our lovely salads. But why would we, when the pasta was about to show up? I ordered my favorite pasta at I Nonni, the gnocchi alla sorrentina. This gnocchi is not that chewy gross stuff that you thaw from the freezer. These are pockets of potato that explode flavor. You can chew them using just your gums; that’s how tender they are. Throw in some chunks of mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, and parmigiano, and you’ve got a world-class pasta. AK ordered the rigatoncini alla gricia, made with house-cured pancetta, onion, tomato, arugula, and pecorino. The crumbliness of the pecorino just soaks into the pasta sauce and boosts the boldness of the dish.
Now we are really in deep. We had our pasta — good for us, let’s be done, right? Instead we head for our entrees. And I can’t glow enough about this part. AK‘s dinner was the costoletta di maiale, a green peppercorn-breadcrumb crusted fried pork chop, served over incredible marsala grilled onions and a saffron risoto. The salty, peppery fried crust and that super moist pork, mixed with the sweetness of the onions made this a dish I was jealous of all night. I just want you to bask in this for a bit.
Right? Well I tried to beat that with my spuntature, a balsamic braised beef short rib with a potato-parmigiano puree, served with pancetta brussels sprouts. This meat is more tender than you can possibly imagine. As though a pot roast just came out of the oven. Creamy potatoes emphasized just how meaty this dish is.
SPom and SPad were with us and each got some great food. SPom got the Ippoglosso, a shrimp/potato crusted alaskan halibut. I have never in my life had halibut this good. It was insane. SPad got bucatini as his dinner entree. Bucatini is an interesting pasta. It’s not one you can really slurp, as its straw-like shape lends itself better to sucking something through it. But it’s served with guanciale, garlic, chiles, you know the drill.
We’re full. We’re looking at our plates feeling defeated. But this is not the kind of restaurant to skip dessert. We get three: carrot cake, a chocolate gianduja torta, and “figgy toffee pudding.” Let’s do the rundown.
Carrot cake. Beautiful carrot cake. A dessert that is so high on my list I can never pass it up. But this is the Italian twist. Candied carrot sits on top of this slice of cake that has a thick 1″ layer of vanilla bean mascarpone cheese inside. Cream cheese frosting? No. Mascarpone. This thing is warm and gooey and each bite gets better and better.
A chocolate torta huh? Yes. Flourless chocolate cake means density like none other (I’d like to point out that SPad, a former baker, makes one of the best flourless chocolate cakes in the world). But still, it somehow has enough air to breathe. Olive oil brings out the flavor of the chocolate, and with some hazelnuts inside and out, you’ve got a great cake.
Figgy Toffee Pudding. The staple for our dinners at I Nonni. Sticky Toffee Pudding is one of those desserts that is a rare find on pub menus that always turns heads. But when you make it with calimyrna figs, english toffee, caramel, and lava salt, you unleash this super goopy, impossibly-textured dessert that melts your heart. If I could eat this condensed little puddingy cake every day, I’d die a very large, very happy man.
Until next time, I Nonni. Don’t ever change.
P.S. Happy Anniversary, SPom & SPad!