It’s rare that I feel compelled to compliment the manager of a restaurant for exemplary service. Yet, the other night, I couldn’t resist praising the captain of the ship at newcomer Nonna Carola Ristorante and Bar, in Mamaroneck. At one end of the downtown strip of Mamaroneck Avenue, this self-described “high-end casual Italian restaurant” is a veritable destination, well worth visiting.
From end-to-end, it’s a well-oiled machine. Reach the hostess station, and you’ll be greeted warmly, possibly by the gregarious manager. As you’re led to your table, you’ll notice front-of-house staff in sophisticated black-and-white uniforms. During both of my visits, they checked tables regularly for unfilled water glasses or dirty dishes and ushered in to make corrections. Head waiters Hector Santos and Luis Duarte were solicitous and professional, and meal pacing was perfection, with courses expertly timed.
Fortunately, the swanky, contemporary décor lives up to the sky-high level of service. From the moment you walk into the anteroom — with its marble, gold lettering, and black-iron staircase — you know this spot is classy, stylish, and well-maintained. Enter the main restaurant space prepared to be seriously impressed.
The large room features a bar clad in black-and-white tile, light-blue velvet banquettes, and black Italian floor tile. Bathrooms are usually a sign of a restaurant’s commitment to cleanliness and high standards, and Nonna Carola’s are spotless and well-appointed. Astoundingly, despite being relatively packed, noise levels are moderate (thanks to noise-reducing ceiling panels and unobtrusive music).
The food, overseen by chef-owner, Gustavo Galvao, formerly of the acclaimed Trattoria Dell’Arte in Manhattan, is mostly winning, with generous portions. Bread arrives warm, with soft herbed butter. The sweet-and-sour Sicilian caponata starter — featuring eggplant, olives, cranberries, capers, and roasted red peppers — might be the best version I’ve ever tasted. (If you’re a fan of caponata, know that the chicken al mattone entrée, with Italian sausage and lemon-butter sauce, also features the eggplant side.) Truffle Burrata, starring mint-pesto-slathered sourdough toast crowned by a generous disk of Burrata, was innovative and seductive. A fig glaze added sweet notes, while prosciutto supplied nuttiness and saltiness.
The flawless rendition of pappardelle Bolognese also won me over, with its blend of veal, pork, and beef, and plenty of whipped ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano. (If you’re thinking of bringing the kids, know that this dish, plus chicken parm, should satisfy them.) Moist and perfectly cooked, the fish in the wild halibut entrée contrasted pleasingly with the crispy fried sunchoke chips strewn alongside. An orange-carrot glaze and tender farro completed the plate. Thoughtfully, the restaurant offers a vegan entrée, cauliflower arrosto, which I’d recommend ordering as a healthful side dish. An eggplant purée and pistachio gremolata, fitting nods to the Mediterranean, help balance an otherwise rich meal.
On the other hand, the calamari and shrimp in the fritto misto were slightly soggy (though the accompanying basil-ranch dressing kept us returning to the plate for more). The risotto alla pescatora (seafood risotto) could have used more saffron and seafood, as it tasted mostly of cheese. The veal osso buco would have benefited from a couple more hours to braise; the meat wasn’t evenly fork-tender. That said, the accompanying cheesy polenta was crave-worthy. Two of the three cocktails we tried (a Passion Mule, with Maker’s Mark and ginger beer; and the Mango Italiano, with Casamigos blanco, Grand Marnier, and mint) were heavy on the fruit purées and low on the alcohol.
Make sure to leave room for dessert, as Nonna Carola has a dedicated pastry chef. The deep-fried Nutella Oreos were a particular revelation. Stuffed with the popular chocolate-hazelnut spread, Oreo cookies are blanketed in batter, then crusted in Rice Krispies cereal and deep-fried. The result is incredible crispiness on the exterior and creaminess in the center. Intensifying that effect, each of the four balls comes punctured by a mini-pipette filled with mascarpone cream. Right before you eat each doughnut-like treat, you squeeze in the cream. Likewise, the chocolate decadence cake, encompassing chocolate cheesecake, chocolate ganache, chocolate crust, and raspberry coulis, is the ultimate creamy-rich send-off.
211 Mamaroneck Ave
Cos Cob-based Dina Cheney is the author of six cookbooks and writes about food, health, and wellness for numerous publications.