Single best culinary drift of the decade? Fine-dining chefs who decide to slum it in casual takeouts. Like Mike Easton (Il Corvo, Pizzeria Gabbiano) and Shane Robinson and Garrett Doherty (Kraken Congee), chef Lisa Nakamura has plenty of highbrow on her resume—including a sous gig at Napa’s French Laundry. But a few ventures and one crowd-pleasing gnocchi popup later—Nakamura decided to commit to the terrific little dumplings in a nondescript brick-and-mortar outpost at the epicentral 12th and Pine, absorbing the former location of D’Ambrosio Gelato.
To be sure, a lot of folks who haven’t gotten the memo will still wander in for a stracciatella cone. But now they’ll also find some half dozen gnocchi preparations daily, like the bold combo of roasted portobellos, artichoke hearts, and fiery Mama Lil’s peppers in pesto that I savored with appreciative deliberation the other day. (The polenta gnocchi is a crumblier acquired taste, but it grows on you.) A simpler variation, with spicy beef/pork meatballs in a robust red sauce, was just as admirable, thanks to the self-assurance of full-throated flavors—the hallmark of a classically trained chef who knows exactly what she’s doing.
Portions seem small until you’re halfway in. Throw in one of Nakamura’s scrupulously seasonal salads, much better than they could get away with being—one shareable winner featured baby spinach, spears of cucumber, sun-dried tomato slivers, and balls of milky mozzarella, tossed up in an umami-rich balsamic dressing—and you’re enjoying a blue-ribbon meal for around $15. Spendy lunch or deal of the century? The latter in a heartbeat.