All in the family
Nocino invites diners to mangia at Eastview Mall; photos by Tomas Flint
818 Eastview Mall, Victor eatnocino.com
“It’s by entrance two right next to P. F. Chang’s around the corner from Macy’s,” I texted my friends, almost chuckling to myself.
In all my years writing about restaurants, reviewing one in the mall had never crossed my mind. But Nocino, located in Victor’s Eastview Mall, showed promise.
My coworker crooned about the calamari, and I’d enjoyed many meals at sister restaurants Velvet Belly and Branca Midtown, also operated by SCN Hospitality. I was curious to see what the team could do outside of its usual stomping grounds.
I walked through the doors, and immediately a wall of vintage photos and the smell of Sunday sauce greeted me. It didn’t feel like a mall restaurant.
The space, which was Prime Steak House and Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano, takes heavy inspiration from the Italian American families of co-owners Chelsea Felton and Jeremy Nucelli.
When the team first looked at the location, they had the sense of being in someone’s house. Reminded of gathering around the table and stuffing artichokes or rolling gnocchi with her family, Felton sought to create a comforting space centered around the importance of food.
“My grandma’s house had this beautiful hutch with her wine glasses and china,” she says.“I wanted the decor to feel like family heirlooms passed down through the generations.” She sourced items, including the restaurant’s elegant wood sideboards, from antique shops in the city.
The walls feature old photographs from her and Nucelli’s extensive families. If you look closely, you can spot one of late Goodfellas actor Ray Liotta posing with a young woman. That’s Felton’s mom, who met him while visiting her cousin at the University of Miami.
The cocktails, too, share the vintage vibe. Each comes in a unique etched glass that echos the spirit of a grandmother’s well-curated china cabinet. As you would expect from the folks that run the Revelry and Bitter Honey, the classic drinks like the Paper Plane and Negroni are near perfect. “We try to keep everything in the vein of what we do,” says co-owner and president of the restaurant group Josh Miles, speaking about the quality of their cocktails.
For something a little different, try the espresso martini, served with a dash of nocino, a bitter walnut liquor and the restaurant’s namesake. It comes with a biscotti and is a perfect predinner snack. Something that immediately makes diners feel at home at Nocino is the generous portions. Felton unapologetically describes the restaurant as a “red sauce, chicken cutlet joint,” where you can get a big plate of pasta with a lot of cheese. The menu ranges from antipasti like fried mozzarella and sauteed calamari rings to salads, pizza, and pasta.
If you’re feeling fancy, try the bucatini all’amatriciana, a smokier take on spaghetti and red sauce made with guanciale (Italian salt-cured pork jowl), roasted tomatoes, and chiles.
You can also revisit old favorites like I did and go with a chicken or veal cutlet and your choice of sauce over a bed of al dente pasta. Miles says the team splurged on “the baddest extruder” they could find so they could make housemade noodles that rival those in the finest Italian establishments. The bronze dies, like ones you would find in Italy, give the rigatoni, cavatelli, and linguine their incredible exterior texture, which lets each noodle soak up more sauce.
Whether you opt for francese—basically chicken french—marsala, parmesan, or milanese, it’s hard to go wrong. Each comes with two massive cutlets that could easily feed two people. I came with a hefty appetite and ended up taking half of it home.
Another dish done well is Nonna’s Pie, a rectangular Sicilian-style pizza with red sauce, thick parm shavings, and basil. The kitchen proofs the dough for extra time, producing a complex, almost sourdough flavor. I ordered it as a starter instead of garlic bread with cup-and-char pepperoni—and I was happy I did. Despite feeling stuffed by the end of the meal, we were tempted by an order of cannoli and semifreddo.“Does it even count if it’s only half a cannoli and some frozen cream?” I reasoned with myself. Split among four people, it ended up being the perfect way to close the evening.
Pastry chef Rachel Patall-David, who also creates treats for Velvet Belly, fills the flaky shells with sweet ricotta, then dips one side in crushed pistachios and the other in mini chocolate chips. They’re much lighter than you’d expect, especially for a dessert literally piped with cheese.
Ultimately, I didn’t feel foolish at all for inviting my friends out to the mall on a Friday night. I felt like a hero for finding an unpretentious new spot to try.We left full of carbs and good drink, and, really, what more could I ask for?
As I clutched containers of pasta and pizza to take home, a strange feeling came over me. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had packed me a meal for the next day. It was almost like someone’s grandmother was urging me to mangia mangia as I slipped out the door and back to my car.