departments

Sept/Oct 2009 Issue

Inspired Italian

Savor Northern Italian Cuisine on Louisiana’s Northshore
at Ristorante del Porto
By Carolyn Thornton

Local and seasonal are the buzzwords in restaurants today. People, travelers included, want to eat fresh and natural foods.

Chefs

Above: Torre and David Solazzo are the wife-and-husband culinary force behind acclaimed Ristorante del Porto in Covington. (St. Tammany CVB photo)

Below: Del Porto blends sophistication with a casualness that attracts locals time and again. (Carolyn Thornton photo)

dining room
Torre and David Solazzo, the husband and wife chefs behind Ristorante Del Porto, celebrate both in Covington, La. They keep the menu exciting by emphasizing market-fresh ingredients whenever possible from local farmers, always adding creations focused around seasonal abundance. They are often found mingling with other shoppers at the twice-weekly Covington Farmers’ Market at the Tammany Trace Trailhead on Wednesdays and near the Tammany Parish Courthouse on Saturdays.

While working in California (Torre is a native of New Orleans), the couple fell in love with regional Italian cuisine. They have added a sophisticated style to the Northern Italian recipes they serve. Signature dishes at Ristorante Del Porto are handmade pastas, grilled fish and antipasti that’s called “the best anywhere” by repeat customers.

Ristorante Del Porto was named the best Italian restaurant in the greater New Orleans area by the Times Picayune newspaper in 2007 and 2008.

Located in Covington on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, the restaurant occupies a corner building at 501 East Boston St. Wide, plantation-style Venetian blinds filter the sunlight through two walls of windows. A right-angled bar with drop-down lights echoes the “L” shape of the main dining area, which has 18 tables. A corner room with a wine rack accommodates a single table for an intimate setting. Even when a small group is enjoying cozy camaraderie, the French doors are usually left open.

Lantern-like chandeliers and ceiling fans hang from a wooden ceiling. In balmy weather, dining spills outside where four tables, each set for four, line the sidewalk of New Hampshire Street. Hanging ferns add cool accents. Bouquets of fresh flowers are kept small so as not to distract from the feast to follow.

The menu mixes Italian and English descriptions for some of the regular selections that make up the antipasti (appetizers), insalate (salads), primi (first), secondi (second) and dolce (desserts) courses. Zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) and pesce del giorno (fish of the day) are easily interpreted. However, a few items such as involtini (a little package) might need the assistance of a waiter. Roasted red pepper stuffed with goat cheese and basil arranged in a spoke pattern made a beautiful appetizer.

Regular main course favorites are tagliatelle (noodles) made on site heaped with chicken and mushroom in a Bolognese style, and double-cut grilled pork chops arranged with red peppers, local wax beans, local peach and chili marmalade.

Hints of local ingredients, such as seasonal mushrooms, pop up throughout the menu. Egg salad is made with poached yard eggs. The house mozzarella is served with Creole tomatoes. Chicken comes from Springer Mountain Farms; shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Strawberry sorbet and blueberry gelato reflect the season’s bounty.

Seasonal offerings in July included fresh figs in an appetizer of arugula greens and garlic crostini with thinly sliced Italian cured meats. The Solazzos also incorporated figs in the pan-seared maple leaf duck breast accompanied by summer beans. For dessert, figs were cooked in Marsala wine, honey, clove and cinnamon to create a tart served with ice cream. For pizza lovers, a fig and sun-dried tomato pizza with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese was offered.

Del Porto’s white tablecloths and extensive wine list blends sophistication with a casualness that attracts locals time and again. While coats and ties are welcome, they’re not required. That combination allows diners to loosen up and make the meal a fun event, which invites friends to sample the greatest number of delectable combinations by sampling off of one another’s plates.
   
Ristorante Del Porto is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday– Friday and for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. Happy Hour begins at 4:30 p.m. with seasonally designed drinks added to the usual mix.
   
Carolyn Thornton is a contributor from Purvis, Miss.

 

What’s Cooking at Ristorante Del Porto
501 East Boston St., Covington, LA
985-875-1006, www.delportoristorante.com

Appetizers
Involtini of roasted red peppers, goat cheese and basil         
$9

Antipasta of cured Italian meats and cheeses, grilled seasonal vegetables, seasonal fruit, garlic crostini                                                                                      
$14/$26

Salad
Arugula, pecorino Romano, lemon vinaigrette                       
$9

Baby spinach, caramelized mushroom salad, ricotta, mushroom-sherry vinaigrette
$7

Main course
House made tagliatelle, chicken mushroom Bolognese          
$16/$18

Grilled pork chop, red peppers, wax beans, peach and chili marmalade                   
$26

Dessert
Rum cake with peaches, basil and white chocolate               
$9

Tiramisu                                                                                 
$9

Sorbetto and gelato sampler                                                   
$9

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