Variety for veggies
Authentic Italian food served in style, that's all about Little Italy, the new restaurant on Nungambakkam High Road
TOO OFTEN, being vegetarian in Chennai can be a drawback. For once you've eaten your way through the city's admittedly delectable idly-dosa-thayir saadham menu, you're stuck when it comes to dining out. Especially if you want an evening that's more about soft music and hushed service than slopping sambar and yelling waiters. Because, strangely enough, although our burgeoning city is home to a number of `veggies', there are very few places to head to for stylish, innovative, serious vegetarian food.
In this sense, Little Italy, which opened last week in the old Eldorado building on Nungambakkam High Road, fits the bill. It serves authentically Italian food pizzas, pastas, cannelloni, risotto, gnocco ... the works and still manages to steer away from the pepperoni path.
A popular chain of restaurants that originated from Poona, Little Italy has been ladling out the minestrone and stirring cauldron after cauldron of creamy cheese sauces in Bombay, Goa and Bangalore for years.
Their newest restaurant has taken over the Eldorado basement, which earlier housed a rather nondescript food court, and transformed it. The floors are now covered in warm, gleaming wood, and the entire restaurant is suffused with that genteel golden glow achieved by dim lighting and hushed voices. Except for the occasional ear-splitting shriek from a group of tousled-haired, over energetic children, the ambience is great. But then, wailing babies and spilt Coke are characteristics of any `family restaurant' worth its rosemary and Little Italy is clearly positioning itself as a joint that welcomes every bambino with open arms.
The meal began with a colourful collection of starters, including the classic Italian bruschetta: fresh chopped tomatoes flavoured with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, on warm crusty bread. There was, of course, the old favourite garlic bread, soaked in melted butter and baked with garlic. They also dished up an aromatic funghi trifolati; made with plump, juicy mushrooms sautéed in olive oil and flavoured with spiky rosemary.
You've probably noticed the recurring theme here by now olive oil. The Mediterranean countries have been lolling in the rich variety of flavours, aromas and tastes that olive oil gives to food for at least 6,000 years. They cook with it, flavour salads with it, put it on their bread, and even drizzle it over served food.
Italian food is also famous for being simple, since it just brings together basic flavours. Little Italy's drippy pizza is a case in point. Made with a spicy tomato sauce, jalapeno peppers, puddles of spinach and draped in mozzarella, the pizza is unfussy and wholesome.
Their pasta del barone, made with ravioli filled with spinach and enrobed in a cheesy tomato sauce, is jazzier but not as appetising. However, they have an extensive menu, and provided you have the patience you should be able to find something you enjoy.
The meal ended with a faintly bitter Tiramisu, creamy and well dusted with coffee powder, and a deliciously velvety panna cotta, made with just thick cream, milk and sugar.
Little Italy has certainly got off to a great start. Now, their big challenge will be to maintain consistency. Chennai has seen too many fancy restaurants begin with a bang and end with a whimper. But, if this veggie hangout works, it's certainly going to bring home the bacon.
A meal for two at Little Italy costs approximately Rs. 600. Call 52601234 for reservations.
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