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Restaurant of the Year 2019

My New Orleans: Best Of Dining

Sofia

The issue of “authenticity” in restaurants is a tricky one. Some people feel that any chef straying from a cuisine’s traditional recipes is cooking “fusion” food, a pejorative term in their minds. There’s nothing wrong with valuing our culinary past, of course, but ultimately what makes a restaurant great is outstanding food, drink, service, and atmosphere. Whether a chef adheres to canon where food is concerned or takes tradition as inspiration is meaningless unless the experience is positive for the diner.

That said, when one dines at a restaurant that bills itself as serving the food of a specific country, one has certain expectations. At Sofia, an Italian restaurant which opened this year in the Warehouse District, those expectations are exceeded.

Sofia is not, strictly speaking, a regional Italian restaurant, or at least not a restaurant that specializes in one region. Executive chef Talia Diele’s menu includes dishes from all over Italy – the bistecca Fiorentina hails from central Italy, while the osso buco originated in Milan and “The Spicy” pizza features ingredients from toe of the country’s boot in Calabria.

The menu is divided into Antipasti, Secondi, Contorni (sides), Pasta and Pizza. There are around a half-dozen choices in each category – a few more where antipasti are concerned and a few less contorni. It’s not a phone-book, in other words, but speaking for myself there wasn’t anything on offer that I wouldn’t order happily and there’s been nothing I’ve sampled that I wouldn’t order again.

The restaurant is named for Sophia Loren, a friend of the owner (along with Denver -based Culinary Creative Group) Billy Blatty’s parents. Images of Loren by London-born and New Orleans-based artist David Gamble adorn the walls of the restaurant, whose décor overall is modern, yet comfortable. A huge wood-burning oven decorated with a tile mosaic to resemble flames dominates a corner of the dining room near the kitchen. The beverage program is overseen by Hope Clarke, who’s put together an excellent list of specialty and classic cocktails, beers and Italian wines. House-infused liquors and herbs are paired with prosecco and soda water for their “spritzes.” Service is attentive and knowledgeable, just what you’d expect from folks who’ve opened more than one successful restaurant. Sofia is a welcome addition to our dining scene, and a welcoming place in general.

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