Sala, a new restaurant near the New Orleans lakefront, is the latest venture from members of the Riccobono family, owners of the long-running Riccobono's Peppermill, Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe and Cafe Navarre. Siblings Heather and Joe Riccobono opened Sala in December.
Located steps from the West End marinas, Sala seems designed with a younger generation in mind, and the restaurant's decor has a modern, lounge-y feel. A long bar that snakes through the restaurant serves as the focal point.
Some appetizers fit an upscale-casual approach, but entrees seem to follow the family's established Creole-Italian roots, and in the end, the most successful dishes are the ones carrying the Riccobono torch.
Fish and seafood figure prominently on the menu, including an Asian-style seared tuna dish, ceviche, fried calamari and oysters.
Soy- and sesame-seared ahi tuna showcases the pink, firm fish and has a salty, sweet glaze. The fish is fanned out in thin planks, topped with black sesame seeds and served alongside pickled carrots and crispy wonton chips. Plump fried oysters are covered with golden breadcrumbs and served atop a creamy sauce with a zesty kick of horseradish. It is topped with thin strips of pickled shallots and its bright flavors breathe life into a New Orleans standard.
Some of the appetizers' portion sizes are puny for their price tag, as is the case with braised short ribs, where three small pieces run $14. Though seasoned well, the ribs were tough on one visit, and an accompanying bright orange streak of sugary sweet potato puree was an odd pairing.
The entree selection has a strong Creole-Italian undercurrent, which includes seafood-packed pasta fra diavola and chicken caprese with mozzarella and tomatoes over angel hair pasta. Two large, golden-fried drum fillets are served atop mashed potatoes with lemon butter sauce and toasted almonds.
Pane chicken linguine is straightforward comfort food perfect for Sunday supper. Thick noodles cooled al dente are draped in tomato cream sauce and topped with a breaded and fried chicken breast cutlet that has a crunchy exterior.
For dessert, fried zeppole arrive with a burned caramel-like exterior that gives way to a deliciously doughy interior. The doughnuts sit in a slick of sugary, creamy frosting that's as sweet as the glaze on a cinnamon roll but somehow more decadent.
The restaurant can get loud very fast and the acoustics often render the space more like an animated family dinner than a spot appropriate for a quiet rendezvous. Service is welcoming, casual and friendly. With a family with such a long track record in the restaurant business, this shouldn't come as any surprise.