18 N. Fourth St., St. Charles
Hours: 11a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday (11 p.m. on Friday); 3-11 p.m., Saturday; 2-9 p.m., Sunday
Prices: Antipasti, $6-$16; pasta, $14-$22; entrees, $15-$29; pizza, $9-$15; dessert, $5-$6.
Try: “Pizza Stella” with smoked salmon, beet salad, spaghetti carbonara and tiramisu.
Tips: Full bar service. Reservations accepted. Park on the street or in the small lot adjoining the building. Private party room for up to 85.
In a bite: Nuova Italia offers mellow surroundings to match its satisfying meals. Fans of Italian fare can dine there with confidence.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor
Updated: January 11, 2013 1:20PM
A lot of so-called authentic Italian restaurants around here talk a good game but play loosey-goosey with the truth.
Judging by what they put on the plate — from limp pasta to marinara sauce that tastes like it just came out of a can — it’s hard to put much stock in the authenticity they lay claim to.
So it’s refreshing to come across a place like Nuova Italia Ristorante in St. Charles. It’s the real deal, where nothing gets lost in translation. Antonio Lettieri, chef-manager of this two-year-old establishment — a sister to one he opened in 2007 in Addison — hails from the Calabria region in the toe of the Italian peninsula. Lettieri’s years of culinary experience are expressed in the finely executed Old World recipes that his kitchen turns out.
A huge menu provides diners with ample choices from appetizers to dessert. Among the antipasti, diners will find calamari, fried or grilled; baked clams, steamed mussels and marinated, grilled octopus as well as imported buffalo mozzarella, bruschetta and Insalata Caprese.
My dining partner and I did a lot of sharing during a recent dinner visit, starting with carpaccio con rucola, a tasty, uncomplicated salad of thinly sliced beets mingled with arugula dressed in a light vinaigrette.
Next came “Pizza Stella,” which stirred fond memories of another pizza consumed on a busy piazza in Rome not too many years ago. This delicious version, a 10-inch round pie with a thin crust, compared favorably. The pizza, one of 16 types available, was baked in a wood-burning oven and came topped with mozzarella, smoked salmon, a hint of tomato sauce and slices of fresh tomato.
Nuova Italia makes some pasta by hand, including six-finger cavatelli, and imports the rest. Our order of spaghetti carbonara, helpfully split for us by the kitchen, was a treat: the noodles perfectly al dente, the cheese sauce creamy and the pancetta (salt-cured pork belly) bursting with flavor. It’s another fine example of the Italian simpler-is-better approach to cooking at work.
Veal, chicken and whole-baked fish featured prominently in a number of other entrees, and rack of lamb and pork also made an appearance. Though osso buco popped up on the day’s list of specials, our waiter explained that this classic is basically a fixture on the menu.
Tiramisu, made on the premises, is a top-notch dessert here rather than the tired cliche one encounters elsewhere. What’s not to like about layers of creamy mascarpone cheese layered with the espresso-soaked ladyfingers? Best of all, it wasn’t overly sweet and the liqueur used to add flavor was subtly applied with a disciplined hand.
Still other dolce options included panna cotta, cannoli, gelato, sorbets and crema catalana, the Italian equivalent to creme brulee. Flourless chocolate cake with a molten mouse center requires 15 minutes’ preparation.
Nuova Italia is in the heart of town in an historic (1851) one-time limestone church building. Other restaurant tenants have come and gone in the space, most recently Onesti’s Supper Club.
The main dining room feels spacious yet intimate, and the waitstaff is very much on the ball and, if asked, happy to explain the what’s cooking and share recommendations.
Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.