Nonna Cucina in Mexico City may seem like an anomaly. Fine Italian food in the city that is home to outstanding Mexican cuisine? Yes, indeed. Very fine Italian food indeed. Remember, Mexico City is a huge, sophisticated, international city, and Nonna Cucina is a good place to taste the city’s Italian accent.
Location: Avenida Amsterdam 240, Col. Condesa, Mexico City, Mexico
Menu: The menu at Nonna Cucina is large and includes all the traditional Italian dishes, with a modern touch, beautifully presented. All menu items are listed in Italian, with Spanish descriptions. If you can read “linguini,” “gnocchi,” and “lasagna,” you’ll have no trouble, but the waiters are also willing to help you figure out what’s what. There’s an array of pasta and excellent gnocchi. Salmon, sea bass, and other seafood figure large on the menu too. And they are famous for their carpaccio, whether of tuna, beef or octopus, plus a portobello carpaccio for vegetarians. Crisp, thin-crusted personal-sized “pizzetes” are a favorite with many locals. An extensive dessert menu finishes things off nicely, and a hefty wine list offers accompaniment. A full bar offers some special house cocktails as well.
Thoughts: Although the word “Nonna” means grandmother in Italian, Nonna Cucina is clearly not your grandma’s kitchen. The design avoids the Italian restaurant clichés of red-checked tablecloths and Chianti bottle candles and lots of stuff on the walls. Instead, the space is modern and classy, sleek and minimalist, with clean lines and the use of local materials. The dark stone floor spills out onto a raised platform over the sidewalk for al fresco dining. Mirrors and red brick walls with cut-outs and dramatic lighting add a romantic atmosphere at night. The large, glossy bar and pizza oven sit on an island in the center of the room.
For lunch and on balmy evenings, I recommend sitting on the sidewalk terrace. Amsterdam Avenue is a lively, hip, happening neighborhood and offers excellent people watching. Expect at least one street performer to pass by during your meal. For a quieter meal, the inside is comfortable.
The extensive menu at Nonna Cucina means diners are spoiled for choice. There are around twenty antipasti, including a beautiful, glossy burrata with tomatoes, three soups, and four salads. The Portobello con Gamberoni delivers a tower of the thick meaty mushrooms and shrimp bathed in a rich garlic sauce. A taste of the Tartara de Tonno (Tuna Tartar) was rich with a special soy sauce on a bed of couscous and avocado. And the beef carpaccio with truffles and shavings of grana padano was divine.
More than a dozen pasta and risottos fill the next section of the menu, including a Fettucine Dolce Vita prepared with shrimp and asparagus in a white wine and mascarpone sauce. Meltingly rich and good!
As a main dish, I tried the Lemon Chicken, a smoked breast bathed in parsley sauce, covered in thinly sliced lemon, then grilled. It was accompanied by a salad that turned out to be a mountain of julienned carrots, beets, and zucchini over spinach, accented with pieces of grilled peaches. My meal came with a delightful puffed bread like a pita, light as a feather, beside a dish of good olive oil and balsamic for dipping.
My companion ordered the Ossobuco alla Milanese, which came on a bed of saffron rice. The red wine sauce was deeply flavored with surprising grace notes. Other main dishes include grilled octopus, a sesame-crusted tuna filet over garbanzo puree, salmon, sea bass, and some nice cuts of beef. A woman dining nearby was delighted with her chicken breast stuffed with four cheeses.
Two highly recommended desserts are the warm chocolate cake served with a scoop of mint ice cream and the classic tiramisu. The latter offers the perfect balance of flavors of coffee, mascarpone cream, fruit, ladyfingers and bits of chocolate.
Service was efficient and just formal enough. The waiters, in black shirts and slacks covered with long aprons, were attentive without being at all pushy. Ironically, the only time they were slow was when I was waiting for the bill, which finally came with a delicious waffle cookie, a nice touch.
Do take some time to check out the neighborhood before or after your meal. Avenida Amsterdam was built on the city’s old race track and runs in an oval with Parque Mexico in the middle. The broad avenue itself is divided by a pleasant pedestrian walkway lined with trees, plants, artworks, benches, play areas and even work-out stations. It’s a perfect spot for strolling. If you’re afraid of getting lost, just keep walking completely around the oval and end up back where you started. The neighborhood is known for its Art Deco architecture. There are scores of boutiques, cafes, and chocolate shops among the residences. It’s one of the loveliest spots in this big, bustling, sprawling city.
Price Range: Depending on current exchange rates, expect to pay about US$7.50-13 for a pasta dish. Single serving pizzetes run from US$4.75 up to US$13 for one with squash blossom, burrata, truffle oil and basil. My lemon chicken was about US$11.50. Main dishes can go up to US$20 for Angus rib eye served with caramelized onions.
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