New Orleans City Business

November 6 2017 | News

Ruzzitos Restaurante & Chop House was featured by Tom Fitzmorris in New Orleans City Business!

Rizzuto’s elevates former Tony Angello's restaurant

BY TOM FITZMORRIS | RESTAURANT WRITER |  OCT 30, 2017

The first time that my wife, daughter and I had dinner at Rizzuto’s, the dining room staff was clearly pushing us in the direction of the restaurant’s many steaks. They are USDA Prime, they said, unless we wanted to escalate to Wagyu beef (you know – the breed from which comes the famously fatty beef of Kobe in Japan).

But even though all three of us are dedicated steak eaters, we could not bring ourselves to order outside the constricts of Italian food. Because this was for us the first dinner we would have in the house that Tony Angello built since the Rizzuto family took over. Even though we knew that Mr. Tony’s Eggplant Tina and the lobster cup were unlikely to be here ever again. And that there would be no more “Feed Me, Mr. Tony” menus in their multiple small courses. But in its stead, here were the spaghetti and meatballs, veal parmigiana, pasta bordelaise, fettuccine alfredo and all those other Sicilian dishes that drew continuous full houses to Mr. Tony since the 1970s. Close enough for comfort.
And, besides, the steak entrees were at least twice as expensive as the pasta marinara. That wouldn’t bother us on our second dinner at Rizzuto’s. By which time we were unanimous: Rizzuto’s has clearly assembled a much better restaurant than Mr. Tony – may he rest in peace – ever served.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Rizzuto’s is the latest and most ambitious restaurant on post-Hurricane Katrina Harrison Avenue, the food-and-drink nightlife district of Lakeview. Even though the 2005 flood did great damage to that area, the neighborhood has bounced back well beyond what it had been. And there are plenty enough customers to keep all these eateries prosperous. The fact that Rizzuto’s is a bit more formal than most other Lakeview restaurants fills a gap.

WHAT’S GOOD
“Ristorante & Chop House” well explains the culinary ambitions of Rizzuto’s, even though it takes two languages to do so. There’s nothing really new here, nor should there be. Lakeview diners tend to the familiar side of the kitchen. What makes that exceptional is the polish found in even the simplest dishes here. Even though meatballs are kid food, they are exceptionally well made.
The steaks are selected, trimmed and seared carefully, with sizzling butter around the edges of the plate. That’s everything I want from a steak, and here it is. And in a time when $50 and beyond a la carte prices for steaks are not uncommon, Rizzuto’s is okay with $45 for its 16-ounce strip steak USDA Prime. And so am I.

BACKSTORY
We must begin with Tony Angello. His popularity from the 1970s through the early 2000s let him get away with an unlisted phone number. Katrina was the beginning of the end for Mr. Tony’s place. He did have the Lakeview restaurant rolling along well before he passed away in 2015. His family kept it going, but an increase in rent brought an end to that chapter.
This is the second serious restaurant for brothers and owners Phil and Jack Rizzuto. The first one was Amici on Magazine Street. (Side note: the guys who bought Amici wound up expanding the ancient Felix’s oyster bar in the French Quarter.) Amici was good and sometimes excellent, but I will always think of it as a training ground for Rizzuto’s.

DINING ROOM
The flood put water covered much of the roof (!) at Tony Angello’s. The man himself had inadequate insurance. Yet Mr. Tony fully repaired the restaurant, with more or less the same look as before. One enormous main dining room was flanked by many smaller ones. An antique quality made it look as if it dated back to the 1800s. Something I’ve always noticed here is an unusually large number of beautiful women of all ages. My daughter says I am imagining this.
The service staff is everything one could want from a server. From the suggestions for new cocktails (the bar is deft and well stocked) to thoughts about side dishes, they’re always a jump ahead. The owning family is all over the dining room, checking.

DOZEN BEST DISHES
Oysters Rizzuto
Eggplant Rollatini
Crab-stuffed mushrooms
Wedge salad
Caprese salad
16-oz. strip steak
14-oz. aged ribeye
16-oz. Tomahawk Porkchop
Chicken | Veal Marinara
Chicken Scarpariello (Italian sausage, roasted potatoes)
Eggplant Parmesan

FOR BEST RESULTS
By all means, get a reservation. The place is full most of the time. Parking isn’t as hard as it looks. The grassy lot across the street is open to Rizzuto’s customers, but be careful rolling over the curbs.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The staff may be a bit pushy in its desire for you to eat the best steaks.

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
Dining environment +2
Consistency +1
Service +2
Value +2
Attitude +2
Wine and bar +1
Hipness
Local color +1

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES
Romantic
Open Sunday lunch and dinner
Vegetarian dishes