Review: New Indy Restaurant Nesso Brings New Age Italian to Downtown

7856236112_IMG_9445.JPG

Another new Cunningham Restaurant has opened its doors in downtown Indy. Nesso, which occupies the space that was previously home to Cerulean, is inspired by Italian Coastal cuisine.

The new space is cool and inviting. Shades of calming ocean blues, bronzed-colored leathers, and white marble are accentuated by natural woods and textured earth-tone colored upholstery.

7852125088_IMG_9374.JPG

The vibe is even-tempered: chic without being pretentious, inviting without feeling overbearing. And the cocktail menu is similar: It’s straightforward and unfussy, featuring a small list seven signature drinks, most of which are fairly uncomplicated. Enjoy an aptly-named Italian in the Tropics (vodka, lychee liqueur, honeydew, lemon, and tarragon), savor a refreshing three-ingredient Aperol Spritz, or sip on a classic (and boozy) Negroni. The cocktails at Nesso are focused and impressive, but are best enjoyed with a few Italian first courses.

The octopus (“Polpo” on the menu), braised and finished with a quick sear, is boldly flavored and beautifully fork-tender. It is plated over a light and airy eggplant puree and garnished with a bright and contrasty mix of peppadews, charred onion, and olives.

The prosciutto wrapped prunes (“Prosciutto Avvolto Prugne Secche” on the menu) are not to be missed. Thin slices of umami-packed prosciutto are wrapped around sweet goat cheese-stuffed prunes. Elegantly presented with honeycomb and bits of almond and an incredible and spicy romesco, it is a wonderful composition of flavors.

Pastas on the menu at Nesso get their own space on the menu—and deservedly so. On my first visit to this new CRG restaurant, I ordered the Calamarate, the Gnocchi, and the Risotto.

The Calamarate is the boldest of the bunch, featuring spicy ground lamb and labne (a sort of thick strained yogurt).The ring-shaped pasta was cooked perfectly al-dente and draped in a gorgeous sauce with pesto, chiles, and oil cured tomatoes. There is an undefined charm to the dish. The pesto adds a lovely freshness to the dish and the heat is balanced and approachable, especially against the clean flavors of the labne.

7791237072_IMG_9394.JPG

The Gnocchi is downright exquisite. The gnocchi itself is pillowy and light as air. Tucked between spheres of pasta are tender bites of focaccia- chicken meatballs and wedges of savory pears poached in a liquid I could not quite identify (but enjoyed thoroughly nonetheless). It is all carefully plated above a canvas of goat cheese fondue and finished with bits of fried sage and shaved truffles.

7795477120_IMG_9454.JPG

The Risotto is textbook excellence: Creamy and rich with a slight chew. It is pure decadence, cooked in umami-packed broth with butter and parmesan and mushroom and foie gras. It’s all finished with shaved truffles for even more added unapologetic decadence. It’s good—as in, scrape-the-bottom-of-the-bowl good.

7858353472_IMG_9450.JPG

For a main course, I selected (with validation from my extremely attentive and helpful server, Mike) Nesso’s take on Branzino. A entire sea bass (head and bones removed), served skin-on and garnished with herbs and fennel. It rests over a flavorful bed of tomato and slices of potato that benefit from soaking up some of the residual juices from the fish. The sea bass is cooked beautifully; its tender and flaky and seasoned with just right amount of salt to extract the subtle sweet, mellow flavors of the fish. It looks like a marvel served nearly in its entirety on the plate and tastes just as heavenly.

I probably should have prefaced this write-up with this cautionary warning: Save room for dessert. And even if you didn’t, find room for dessert. The uber-talented Hattie McDaniel is curating the the desserts at Nessso, and they are worth unbuttoning your pants for. Her ricotta donuts, of VIDA fame, are a dream. Colored with a deep golden hue, the donuts are celestial clouds of fried dough awesomeness. At Nesso, they make their debut on the Tiramisu, with mascarpone mousse, espresso crumble, cold bre gelée, mocha ganache, and espresso glaze.

The Cannolis arrive in a trio of unique flavors, each distinctive and delicious. The pumpkin with white chocolate is a warm bite of fall wrapped a crisp cannoli shell.  The others, pistachio with dark chocolate and elderflower with candied violet and white chocolate, are equally impressive and on par with the standard I have come to expect and appreciate from McDaniel.

Nesso feels exceptional—and for all the right reasons. The food is not grandiose or pretentious or pompous. At its core, it is quite simple, as all the best Italian food is. It does not hide behind a menu with chapter books full of indecipherable ingredients for each dish; it’s fresh and seasonal and innovative in a way that I found refreshing and altogether unforgettable