Concept of the Year
Ideal Mix: Wine Store With Sicilian Dining
Unfortunately, the road that brings restaurants and dishes from Cajun Country to New Orleans isn’t well traveled. Over the years our city has had a couple of Southern Louisiana stars move this way, like Paul Prudhomme and Donald Link, but given the excellent cuisine for which that part of the state and its chefs are properly famous, we haven’t seen all that much around here.
That dam, however, may have just opened a bit more, and the French descendants of early settlers from Acadia in Canada could have Italian roots – Sicilian, to be precise – to thank.
Marcello’s, a mainstay on the Lafayette dining scene, has come to New Orleans. And according to Gene Todaro, the proprietor, the restaurant’s Crescent City outpost is going gangbusters. In fact, the phrase, “What have we been afraid of about coming to New Orleans?” has crept into more than one conversation. Seems New Orleanians really like their red gravy. But we knew that.
Todaro isn’t a complete stranger to the New Orleans market, given that his cousins, all named Todaro, Elio of Elio’s Wine Shop and Felipe’s Mexican Restaurants fame (and recently deceased) and Blaise and Carlos, from the Vieux Carré Wine and Spirits Shop, have all been operating retail and restaurant outlets in New Orleans since the mid-1980s. In fact, Gene was the cousin who opened up the retail wine and spirit store on Chartres Street in the French Quarter in 1986.
What is intriguing about Marcello’s, besides some excellent molto buona Italian menu offerings, is the wine presentation. Keeping in mind that the location on St. Charles Avenue in a budding restaurant row is the former Le Chat Noir Theatre, Todaro has added a bit of drama to beverage selections.
All of the wine is displayed in racks more commonly associated with retail stores. “I always want our guests to see what we have. They can pick up the bottles, read the labels, satisfy their own questions and then make a selection or two from a wide range of bottles from all over the world, but with an emphasis on Italy.“
Todaro continues, “In this way, we can offer wines at below the usual restaurant pricing. We don’t need a separate storage area, and the pressure is off the server as to what to suggest. All the bottles of wine are out in the open, ready to be selected by the guest.”
Some of the dishes coming from the kitchen are different than the offerings in Lafayette, and sometimes there will be creations in New Orleans that are not being offered in Lafayette. Same is true of the wine. According to Todaro, “the people of New Orleans have a lot of wine knowledge and we have to step up our game to stay up with our customers.”
This marriage of fine dining, retail wine sales in a restaurant setting, and buon divertimento, good fun, is working very well in the Warehouse District.
Marcello’s, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-6333, MarcellosCafe.com