Ristorante del Porto
501 E. Boston St., Covington, 985.875.1006
David and Torre Solazzo’s Italian restaurant has been a Covington fixture since the turn of the century, just not always in the same way.
The first version was a 10-table storefront opened in 2002. That’s where the married chefs, who met while working at the well-regarded Napa Valley restaurant Tra Vigne, test-drove their notion that a region besotted with red sauce was ready for handmade pappardelle, rabbit ragu and duck confit ravioli.
After the Solazzos moved del Porto to its current, larger address in 2006, it became impossible to argue that there was a restaurant serving more accomplished Italian food on either side of Lake Pontchartrain.
The competition has stiffened and diversified in recent years, as the pan-regional, ingredient-driven Italian food championed by del Porto has gone mainstream and, more recently, turned downscale. Del Porto has remained steady all the while, an elegant neighborhood restaurant that just happens to be in a small town. On many nights, even after a 2015 expansion, it feels like most of that town is here, appreciating the ongoing blossoming of this restaurant’s early promise.
Open: Lunch and dinner Tues-Sat. Parking: Street.
Entree prices: $18-$35. Reservations: Yes.
Standout dishes: Grilled pears with prosciutto, Gulf fish crudo, tagliatelle with shrimp, vegetable cannelloni, wine-braised short ribs, cornmeal shortcake
For Bayou charm, skip bland, boozy Bourbon Street and the voodoo tourist traps of New Orleans and head across the causeway to the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. The Northshore region was rocked by Hurricane Katrina but has undergone a serious rebirth in the past couple of years. In Covington, rent a set of wheels from Brooks’ Bike Shop and hop on the Tammany Trace, a 27-mile rail trail that weaves through the wetlands. Pull off in Abita Springs, where Abita Beer is brewed with the namesake springwater. If it’s a Saturday night, stick around for a bluegrass show at the Abita Opry. If not, head back to Covington to fill up on salumi and mussels at Del Porto, then sip a Sazerac at the Cypress Bar in the century-old Southern Hotel. —Cheney Gardner
Unlike the other restaurants on this list, Ristorante del Porto hasn’t moved. It has just grown, having expanded into a storefront neighboring the space it has occupied in downtown Covington since 2006. That was roughly the moment when the lovechild of Torre and David Solazzo, del Porto’s chef-owners, shifted from being a lovable Italian café (which it was when it occupied a smaller space way back in the early 2000s) to one of the most respectable restaurants on either side of the lake. It’s respectable for its serious but unflamboyant attention to seasonality, for its mastery of an array of Italian regional cooking traditions and for being so welcomingly comfortable in its own skin. People almost certainly belly up to the bar unaware that it’s (still) a contender for the title Best Italian Restaurant in New Orleans. The expansion just means there is more space to enjoy those qualities. Don’t miss the shrimp pasta.
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on July 29, 2015 at 1:14 PM, updated July 29, 2015 at 5:36 PM