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Dining Out: New and nom cuisine at La Nonna

The way that La Nonna Ristorante’s chef and co-owner Cono Morena talks about food is the same way that his wife Anna Morena talks about their two family restaurants and the way that sommelier Ben Kaufman talks about the list of wines and spirits available: with passion.

That passion underscores everything about the dining experience at La Nonna, from Cono’s hand-pulling the meat off of braised beef ribs for a ravioli dish to Anna’s stopping to greet and chat with guests over dinner, to Kaufman’s gushing over the origins and history of each bottle available.

And that is why eating at La Nonna, located in the heart of Williamsburg’s vibrant waterfront community, on Kent Avenue and North Third Street, just blocks away from East River State Park, is worth the trip.

“We believe in good quality, fresh, organic, food, nothing pre-cooked and everything the best of the best, [where Cono] can be innovative and experiment with Italian cuisine,” said Anna, who, along with her husband, is a native of Teggiano, Salerno, Italy. “It’s not traditional Italian. We have chicken breast with pears and gorgonzola, kale meatballs, unique salads and things he’ll dream of and then make real, like chocolate gnocchi. People will come and simply say, ‘Cono, cook for me.’”

One of those surprising dishes is the Polipo Alla Griglia ($17), officially an antipasti item, but one that is filling enough to serve as a refreshing lunch. A well-cooked yet tender grilled octopus tentacle is so meaty and not fishy that if you were eating blind, you might not guess its origins. The octopus’ smokiness is offset by the tang of red onions and giant white beans tossed with caperberries, parsley and extra virgin olive oil.

Another starter option is the Pizza Tartufata Alla Griglia ($18), which is a house-made grilled pizza topped with aged fontina cheese, grana padano, thyme and shaved fresh truffles. Crisp, yet soft, the pizza balances the cheese with the burst of sweet truffle.

If you’re in the mood to carb-load with a fun La Nonna creation, try the Raviolo All’Uovo ($17), which is one giant raviolo stuffed with a soft egg and ricotta, surrounded by truffled butter sauce, chiodini mushrooms and fresh shaved truffle. Creamy, rich and comforting, this dish is savory with a hint of sweetness from the ricotta.

There are also jazzed-up favorites on the menu, including the Lombatello Ai Ferri ($25)—hanger steak with roasted fingerling potatoes and Mediterranean chimichurri—and the Spigola Cilena ($30)—Chilean Sea Bass with Rhode Island calamari, cipollini onions, roasted cherry tomatoes and miso-toasted breadcrumbs.

Follow that up with one of the desserts ($8-9) such as panna cotta, fried ravioli stuffed with Nutella and mascarpone, or crème brulee, and you then wash it all down with a beer or one of the New and Old World wines with an Italian focus, available by the glass from California, Spain, France, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Croatia and elsewhere. Or try the non-alcoholic, anise and citrus-flavored Chinotto soda ($3).

La Nonna is the perfect choice for eclectic Italian cuisine, served in a giant, open-air dining room with gracefully-draped curtains and dark-wood furnishings that give an air of classy old-school-meets-modern villa.

“I love my customers to feel at home,” Anna explained. “I know them by name and know what they like to eat.”

As the La Nonna menu states in embossed letters: “Enter as guests. Leave as friends.”

LA NONNA RISTORANTE & BAR

184 Kent Avenue

718-302-1100

Tuesdays through Saturdays: 5-11 p.m.

Sundays: 3-11 p.m.

Lunch hours begin in April

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