Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Restaurant review: Nonna Tata in Fort Worth
Nonna Tata satisfies the culinary cravings of anyone who’s been to Italy or has dreams of going.
FORT WORTH The Vibe
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fort Worth is fortunate to have its own Italian grandmother in Nonna Tata. The small and sunny yellow dining room with rustic tables, maw-maw-ish curtains, and mouthwatering smells coming from the kitchen is what I would imagine a Nonna’s house to be like. In fact Nonna Tata is named for owner/chef Donatella Trotti’s Italian grandmother.
Trading chiffon for a chef’s coat, Donatella Trotti opened Nonna Tata over two years ago after working in the fashion industry for Versace. Without any prior restaurant experience, Nonna Tata initially only opened for lunch but soon stayed open through dinner because of customer demand (I can imagine some begging went on).
Frequent trips back to the northern lake country of Italy where she is from (about every 3-4 months) and daily conversations with her mother help refine her classics and inspire new recipes. This along with seasonal ingredients account for the ever revolving menu. These trips also allow her to bring back ingredients from Italy in her suitcase that she uses in the dishes at Nonna Tata (lucky for us!).
Now, I’m by no means describing some undiscovered gem here. The word has been out among food loving folks in Fort Worth, so chances are there will a bit of a wait for a table. That’s all right, you can bide your time with a little pre-dinner vino in your car, a cocktail at The Chat Room Pub, or mix cultures with a margarita at Benito’s. Here’s a few other things you should know before heading your hungry self over there:
- They are only open Tuesday through Friday and no reservations are taken
- There are only six tables inside and most likely they will be full, so you will have to wait
- The staff will take your cell number and call you when your table is ready
- There are tables set up outside, which is wonderful when the weather is right
- While you’re waiting you can hit an ATM because they only take cash or checks
- If you’d like wine with your meal, bring your own bottle or two (no corkage fee)
- Wine glasses are no longer provided you can bring your own or pay $3 to purchase one of theirs
- Phone ahead to make sure they’re open; you never know when Donatella’s taken a jet plane back to Italy
- Some folks bring their own tables and set them up outside. This isn’t a problem the waitstaff even have a system and will account for you (if you set up next to table #7, you become table #7 1/2)
Now onto the food. Do not expect a pasta plate laden with marinara. This is not “Americanized” Italian food, not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m a baked ziti girl myself and pink sauce – love it. However, if you’re looking for or are curious about the real deal Italian food, then Nonna Tata is as close as you’re going to get short of jumping on a jet plane direct to Milano.
On my first trip to Italy I was surprised by the fact that the food tasted NOTHING like I imagined, not a meatball in sight. The food was beyond fresh and seemed deceptively simple. In Rome I’ve happily eaten pasta that is topped with only fresh sheep’s milk pecorino romano cheese, fresh ground black pepper (lots), and olive oil (Cacio e Pepe). I don’t know that the same dish would fly at the neighborhood Italian joint. That’s what makes Nonna Tata so special – it captures the true flavors of Italy. By that I mean, they take a few simple, selectively sourced ingredients and combine them to make spectacular dishes.
I’ve eaten at Nonna Tata several times and because of the ever-changing menu, I’ve never gotten the same thing twice. The parmesan-dusted spinach gnocchi I got on my first visit was lighter than air and has never made a reappearance. However, the antipasto plate with a variety of meats and cheeses is always offered and is a great place to start. There are always a multitude of pasta options, some of which are made with in-house homemade pasta (such as the gnocchi -- mmmm).
On my last visit to Nonna Tata, my mom came with me for lunch. The pumpkin soup was sublime with its light spicing and creamy, rich subtlety. The soup also served as good dunking material for the rosemary topped fresh focaccia bread. My mom had a Caesar salad that had a fairly light dressing which she much preferred to the heavy, mayonnaise-y variety.
We ordered the Pasta con Zucca e Nocciole (Pasta with Butternut Squash and Hazlenuts) and Focaccia Pomodore e Mozzarella (Sandwich with Tomato and Mozzarella). The butternut squash dotted the pasta like little rays of autumn sunshine and was cooked perfectly – sweet, but still with a little firmness. Grated parmesan, red onions and brown butter fried sage provided a rich flavor contrast to the mellow sweetness of the squash. The bits of grated hazelnut throughout the pasta complemented the squash and added a unique nutty flavor.
The sandwich arrived to the table with the focaccia toasted and glistening. The fresh mozzarella was at the perfect melting point. Fresh tomato and basil balanced the richness of the mozzarella and the crusty buttery foccacia bread to make this a standout. I’ll take this version of a sandwich any day. Potatoes served in a generous helping of olive oil accompanied the sandwich.
Desert seemed too good to pass up, so we decided to split a slice of almond cake with lemon sauce.
Ok, full disclosure here the waitress brought us the cake with a comped cioccolata calda (hot chocolate). Maybe me taking photos made me look important, who knows? I gladly took it – and for the record I’ll always accept freebies. The waitress said that Donatella wanted us to try it and she emphasized that she whips the cream by hand and that she uses a secret recipe for the chocolate itself. Although, I was reading the Star T. the other day and saw that she had indeed shared her recipe, hmmm. I wouldn’t even bother making it at home though, it’s never going to taste as good as it does whipped up at Nonna Tata. The whipped cream layer is piled high atop decadently rich hot chocolate – what a way to end a fabulous meal.
Our waitress was adorable and helpful. She was knowledgeable about the menu and too busy to hover (yay!). Bonus points for being the deliverer of the freebie cioccolata calda and explaining why it’s so good.
Nonna Tata satisfies the culinary cravings of anyone that’s been to Italy or has dreams of going. I taste Italy in every bite and the rustic and charming atmosphere add to the foodie fantasy. Well worth the wait and the effort to eat here. The menu is ever changing, so repeat visitors will be rewarded with new menu items. I’m dying to bring my own table some time – where else can you do that?
Si! Cinque out of Cinque Panthers. That’s 5 out of 5 panthers before you bust out your Italian dictionary. The Fort is lucky to have its Nonna!
I Eat This
At lunch, a pasta or a sandwich. Dinner should start with an antipasto then a homemade pasta dish or the special.
Pegasus News Content partner - Eat This Fort Worth
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