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REVIEW: Monaciello Delivers Wonder On A Plate

By Kyle Young

Agnolotti

Monaciello serves pizzas, pasta, sandwiches and small plates that raise the culinary bar in Reno. The intimate restaurant on California Avenue offers a distinctly beautiful mid-century modern aesthetic. Pretty much everything about this restaurant deserves your attention.

Is It Hyperbole If You Really Believe It?

Monaciello seating.

Bold seating and decor at Monaciello. Image: Kyle Young.

I love researching different types of cuisine. I enjoy trying to better my own skillset and expand my knowledge about food. I love the spectrum of skill that home cooks, line cooks, sous chefs and chefs bring to the world. The thing I love most about food, besides eating it, is connecting with people that celebrate imagination in the kitchen. The people operating Monaciello have created a gift for our city that I’m confident will bring people genuine happiness.

How do they achieve such a feat? It starts with the look of their restaurant. The walls and the cushions on their high-top seats are bathed in turquoise. At the rear of the restaurant, diners get smalls peaks at Chef Jacob Gordon and his two sous chefs through an ornate grate and distinctive wood paneling.

The standard table seating is upholstered with plaid that includes olive green, baby blue, white, black and orange. So many restaurant chairs are attractive but lack comfort. The creators of Monaciello seemed to foresee that diners would want to stick around for a while, so they designed the space to be just as beautiful as it is comfortable.

Diverse Backgrounds Create A Culinary Dream Team

Everybody’s got a story, and the one about Monaciello’s staff is worth a listen. My wife and I were well taken care of during the entire dining experience by Mishon Shanley, front of house manager and server, and Chris Tisdale, general manager. We were also excited to meet Chef Gordon near the end of the meal.

The three of them explained that they have been friends for a long time. Gordon and Tisdale started a hot sauce company together, AgonEcstasy (get it?). If you enjoy heat in your hot sauce, look out for the rebirth of this saucy juggernaut.

Tisdale brings a distinct skillset to the restaurant with his knowledge and experience with local farmer’s markets. His aunt started the farmer’s market in Sparks many years ago. Since that time, he went on to run the farmer’s market at the Summit Sierra in south Reno. He applies those great connections to Monaciello with ingredients sourced from local purveyors. Monaciello gets fresh produce and fresh farmed tilapia from Dayton Valley Aquaponics, beef from Sanford Ranch (Fallon), various products from Andelin Family Farm (Sparks), Al Bees Sierra Nevada Honey Company and Sand Hill Dairy (Fallon).

At The California Culinary Academy, Gordon earned his AOS (Associate of Occupational Studies) in Culinary Arts with a specialization in European cuisine. After Gordon graduated from The California Culinary Academy, he started out at Dolce in Reno. Not long after Dolce, he sought to see how other chefs in the country were pushing the craft. He traveled the country learning the very best techniques and preparations from the culinary minds he respected. Upon returning to Reno, he opened The Tuscan Tomato, a casual upscale restaurant. Realizing the potential that midtown and downtown presented, he said goodbye to The Tuscan Tomato and started plans for Monaciello.

Bringing Down the House(-made) Ingredients

As someone who regularly writes about food and rolls around in food culture, I do my best not to be a pretentious “food guy” who shames people for lauding Olive Garden as the pinnacle of Italian cuisine. Generally, I want people to eat what they like while keeping an open mind to trying new things. The reason it’s so difficult to stomach Olive Garden is that they seem to charge close to $20 for dishes that were manufactured, previously frozen and/or poorly prepared.

Pork belly

Pork belly appetizer at Monaciello. Image: Kyle Young.

The pasta dishes at Monaciello range in price from $14 to $16 and every single detail boasts artisan quality. The pasta and pizza doughs at Monaciello are made fresh every morning. The flour, salami, peperoni, and prosciutto come straight from Italy. The produce and other meats are sourced from places that diners can travel to themselves in about an hour. The sauces have the proper viscosity and that “cling to the pasta” quality. The dishes boast complexities of texture and flavor.

Shanley encapsulated my feelings exactly when she said that people incorrectly assume that house-made ingredients and dishes automatically skyrocket the prices in a restaurant. She explained that making as much as possible in-house takes additional time, not additional money. She shared that Chef Gordon and his sous chefs spend most of their waking hours preparing: pastas, pizza doughs, sausages, seasonings, meatballs and more.

Did you know that the restaurant’s signature gunpowder seasoning is made completely in-house? The seasoning includes 13 peppers that get roasted, smoked and ground with the smoke coming from a proprietary blend of various woods. The taste has high heat, smoke, complex chili flavor and a subtle citric quality. It is absolutely wonderful. Even if your dish does not include this seasoning, I highly encourage you to ask the staff for a small sample.

The additional time and love spent in the Monaciello kitchen allows them to serve astonishingly high-quality food for affordable prices.

Monaciello Served A Meal I Won’t Soon Forget

My wife and I ordered the pork belly appetizer ($10) which included peach habanero jelly, bacon butter, pickled shallots, chipotle walnuts, corn and cilantro. I’m aware that everyone and their mother has a pork belly dish these days, but this one sounded too good to pass up.

The Sausage and Peppers Sandwich

The Sausage and Peppers Sandwich to end all sandwiches. Image: Kyle Young

The pork was well-crisped on the outside and tender on the inside. The walnuts added a great crunch and subtle smoke flavor. The sweet-heat jelly perfectly balanced the savory and salty qualities of the pork and the acidic shallots. Additional sweetness came from the corn and candied lemon zest garnish. The ingredient not included in the description that really elevates this dish is the pulverized pork cracklin. If you want a textural powerhouse packed with flavor, look no further than pulverized pork cracklin.

My wife ordered a glass of the Jlohr Valdiquice ($7), a red wine blend, with her meal. Shanley explained that the strain of grapes used to make this wine was thought to be extinct for many years, but was recently revived. My wife said it was light for a red wine with touches of sweetness and acidity.

For my wife’s entrée, she selected the Sausage and Peppers Sandwich ($13) which included her choice of soup, salad or curly fries. At the advice of Shanley, she chose the ginger, carrot and onion soup. The soup was especially fragrant with every ingredient playing a part but not dominating the dish. A bit of cream and expert preparation gave the dish the silkiest texture.

The sandwich included a house-made sausage, bell peppers, onions, roasted garlic and blue cheese crumbles. The produce was well-seasoned and cooked. The bread had the right give and resistance in the right spots. The sausage itself was spectacular. The outside of the sausage was browned well and had a great snap. The interior was especially moist, delicate, smooth and fragrant. The flavor was sweet and earthy with notes of fennel and herbs. The blue cheese and roasted garlic added salt, creaminess, and savory qualities to the sandwich. The enjoyment of every bite lingered.

Mint panna cotta

Mint panna cotta at Monaciello. Image: Kyle Young.

For my entrée, I chose the agnolotti ($15), which are small flat ravioli. The dish included spinach, artichoke, caramelized onions, sweet peppers, corn and blue cheese crumbles. The pasta was cooked to spot-on al dente. Surrounding the pasta were red, yellow and orange peppers cut into attractive ribbons. The deep green of the well-cooked spinach alongside the multicolored peppers and yellow corn made the dish a sight to see. The starch in the sauce created a fantastic viscosity that allowed the sauce to cling to the pasta. The sweetness of the caramelized onions was cut with the saltiness of the blue cheese. The portion was generous and the ratio of pasta to produce was well balanced.

Though we had satisfied bellies, our curiosities demanded that we order dessert. We chose the mint panna cotta ($7) with fig compote, chopped pecans, brûléed strawberries, and house-made chocolate sauce. Panna cotta is sweetened cream that gets its body from gelatin. I hold no special dessert knowledge, but I always fault restaurants for serving watery panna cotta. Monaciello’s panna cotta had no such problem. The dish had my ideal ratio of firmness to give. The fig compote had a nice balance of chewiness, sweetness and deep fruit flavor. The acidity of the strawberries cut the sweetness in the chocolate sauce and the heat from the torch gave them that extra oomph. The pecans added welcome crunch and nuttiness. The mint in the panna cotta alongside the other flavors was divine.

Get While the Gettin’s Good

Monaciello offers the precision and imagination characteristic of the world’s greats. Perhaps many won’t notice, but just the plating employed at the restaurant is demonstrative of the care applied to every dish.

The restaurant not only offers an exceptional lunch/dinner menu, but also a weekend brunch menu that I’d like to sample ASAP. Frosted flake-crusted French toast stuffed with brie and strawberries has my mouth watering as I write this. Instead of coffee at breakfast, consider their creamed coffee (think coffee gelato on ice).

Visit Monaciello before the lines trail down the street. I have no doubt that they’ll soon achieve such success.

They are located at 190 California Avenue in Reno, occupying the space formerly used by Blue Moon Pizza. Monaciello is open on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Tuesdays, open Wednesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., open Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and open on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are available for larger parties. Call them at 775-507-7540 and visit them online at monacielloreno.com.

The Sausage and Peppers Sandwich
The Sausage and Peppers Sandwich to end all sandwiches. Image: Kyle Young

 

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