The Curmudgeon Reviews…Caffé Nonna

FWOOOOOSH

Please hold still while in the decontamination room.

The Nashville Scene recently announced their Best of Nashville 2013 edition, which is always a cause of much discussion in the area. Mostly because so many selections are made by a completely stupid, uninformed populace. However, as the Best Of Nashville has grown in popularity/notoriety, things have improved a bit.

…Or have they?

The Curmudgeon took the opportunity to try out the recently-crowned “Best Of” Italian Restaurant in town, Caffé Nonna. An odd choice of title, since caffé is the Italian word for coffee, not roadside restaurant, and Nonna is decidedly not a coffee joint. Perhaps the name should have been taken as a portent of things to come. At any rate, he promised to heap scorn upon Scene readers if it didn’t live up to his expectations. How did it fare?

SPOILER ALERT: It would be beneficial to you, dear reader, if you enjoyed the taste of scorn.

Caffé Nonna is approached from, generally, a ways away. Because there are two, and only two, parking spaces in front of the restaurant. And no valet, like there is at Park Café next door (note the proper spelling).1 The two front doors, bizarrely, are hinged on opposite sides, which causes you to have to come inside, rearrange your party, and then open the second one in some sort of bizarre airlock entering the Space Vessel Nonna. At least when you get inside, it’s…um…tiny?

Definitely tiny. It’s an “intimate” setting in the same sense that a realtor uses the word “cozy” to describe a 150 square foot apartment inside a basement closet. Hope you aren’t claustrophobic!

Of course, all that could be quite easily excused if the food is good. So our intrepid diners continued on unfazed by the environment.

First course (thankfully spared from the “Antipasto” designation that most half-assed Italian restaurants try to use to sound more authentic) was the Mediterranean Cheese Sticks, which consisted mostly of phyllo-enrobed feta with various garden-based accoutrements. It was simple, yet delicious. The phyllo was much lighter than typical fried cheese breading, and the feta was not too, um, feta-y. The conversation with the lovely Mrs. Curmudgeon was quite nice, as well.

Unfortunately, as the evening wore on both the food and the ambiance took a turn for the worse. The Curmudgeon allowed himself to be dissuaded from the Veal Roulade to the evening’s special, a Lamb Bolognese served over rigatoni noodles. The other half of the table ordered the Spinach Gnocchi with the pesto sauce, old standards at any pasta-oriented restaurant. And since Nonna prides itself on making some homemade pasta, and gnocchi is generally a good indicator of how well they perform this, it made sense.

By this point it was getting difficult to hear and speak, as the tables had approximately 18″ between them, also defined as “just enough space for Mr. Skinny Hipster Waiter to squeeze in and rub his ass all over our table while he was serving the people on either side of us.” The Curmudgeon cannot think of any food that is enhanced by the presence of Waiter Ass.2

At any rate, someone eventually managed to squeeze their ass all over a neighbor’s table to drop off food at The Curmudgeon’s. Things smelled okay at first, but the gnocchi at least appeared to have unfortunately fallen off of the USS Pasta into a veritable sea of creamy “pesto” sauce. The Curmudgeon briefly considered fashioning tiny life rafts out of drink napkins and diving in the creamy “pesto” sauce in an effort to save the unfortunate potato bites from premature death by drowning.

Really, if you have to serve your gnocchi and creamy “pesto” sauce with a giant soup spoon, perhaps you are doing something wrong. Like maybe using roughly seven times more creamy “pesto” sauce than necessary. Or, maybe, even adding cream to the creamy “pesto” sauce in the first place3? Cream is heavy. Gnocchi needs a light hand and a lighter sauce. Cream and gnocchi…not so good.

To add insult to injury, the gnocchi wasn’t even that great. It was passable, but Mrs. Curmudgeon makes better gnocchi at home, which has the added advantage of not costing $15 per serving. And not, y’know, drowning. Even for hand-cut pasta, the size variation was way too large, so some were nice and soft whereas the larger ones were still hard and dense. Consistency is important for a food such as pasta that cooks so quickly. This gnocchi had all the consistency of your local congressperson4.

The bolognese that the waiter worked so hard to sell? It was the most nondescript ragù The Curmudgeon has ever tasted. It was, again, perfectly passable, but bolognese needs character. It needs punch. It needs more than just a Vaguely Meaty Flavor™, which was about all this possessed. The lamb was completely lost, as far as any actual lamb flavor or texture was concerned — for all The Curmudgeon knows they served ground pork, or ground beef, or ground country music tourist5.

And then there was the rigatoni. See, rigatoni is an extruded pasta, and precious few restaurants actually make their own extruded pasta (for several very legitimate reasons). But not all store-bought pastas are created equal, and this was … not the best of extruded pastas. Come to think of it, there was a fairly high percentage of extruded pastas like the rigatoni and penne on the menu. An odd choice for a place that wishes to show off its pasta-making skills.

When the waiter finally rubbed his ass up against our table in what one can only assume is how they ask the question “Would you care for dessert?” in this place, it was obviously time to leave. Since this was an Italian restaurant in Nashville and The Curmudgeon is a realist, he did not have particularly high hopes for this Best Italian Restaurant in Nashville as voted by the horse-brained populace that also willingly dines at places like Applebee’s. Perhaps what this really proved is that Nashville just isn’t ready to have good Italian food6. So it is with no surprise and yet a twinge of disappointment that The Curmudgeon is forced to pile heaping amounts of steaming hot scorn on the populace of Nashville. Maybe next year…

  1. Pro tip: do not wear stilettos to Caffé Nonna []
  2. Someone, somewhere, is formulating a Hooters joke as you read this. It’s probably you. []
  3. Seriously, who puts so much cream in their pesto? Or any cream, for that matter? []
  4. That means it was horribly inconsistent, smart-ass. []
  5. Before you ask, it’s a little fatty for The Curmudgeon’s taste. []
  6. Also, that Scene readers are idiots []
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