Hey ‘NAMO, ‘NAMO Ital­iano

Dis­cover gourmet Ital­ian cui­sine in the heart of down­town Saigon

Oi Vietnam - - News - Text by Michael Arnold Im­ages by Ngoc Tran

ON MARCH 28TH, ‘NAMO Ar­ti­sanal

Pizze­ria (74/6 Hai Ba Trung, D1) marked its first an­niver­sary by launch­ing a new menu that draws on the seafood cui­sine of the Mediter­ranean coast. Oi Viet­nam was there to ex­plore the venue’s new tastes of Italy.

‘NAMO’s cor­po­rate chef Ivan Barone is brim­ming with en­thu­si­asm over his new menu—which ef­fects a com­ing of age for a restau­rant that con­tin­ues to dis­tin­guish it­self for prime din­ing a notch above what’s nor­mally ex­pected of an or­di­nary pizze­ria. Up­dat­ing the al­ready finely-bal­anced menu has been an en­er­giz­ing ex­er­cise for Barone, a chef so ded­i­cated to his craft that he reg­u­larly wakes in the mid­dle of the night to scrawl down fresh recipe ideas for de­vel­op­ment at the venue.

“We don’t want to be the clas­sic Ital­ian restau­rant stuck with one menu for 20 years,” he em­pha­sizes. “As the ‘NAMO brand, we don’t want our guests to get bored, so we want to follow the sea­sons of Italy—even though Saigon is al­ways hot—and our chefs will also be mo­ti­vated by prepar­ing fresh menu items, so the team is more ex­cited and will­ing to cook bet­ter.”

The new menu rep­re­sents some­thing of a state­ment for ‘NAMO—a demon­stra­tion of the ma­tu­rity of the brand. While ar­ti­sanal pizza still counts as an emerg­ing food fash­ion that has only re­ally started to take off in the past decade—even in Italy—Barone’s re­work­ing of the dishes on of­fer here is a pas­sion­ate homage to mod­ern trends in his na­tional cui­sine that sug­gests there re­mains much to be ex­plored. It is an at­tempt to couch the more ca­sual, com­fort­able el­e­ments of ‘NAMO’s fine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in the com­plex sub­tleties of its more re­mark­able menu op­tions.

What’s im­por­tant is Barone’s bal­anc­ing act be­tween the fa­mil­iar and the more ex­otic new items.

NAMO’s cor­po­rate chef is a com­poser of his recipes, and his new menu is an or­ches­tral work best en­joyed for its sub­tleties, with a con­cen­trated ef­fort on the part of the diner to ap­pre­ci­ate the del­i­cate bal­ance of tastes on the tongue.

In fact, our over­all im­pres­sion of the menu was one of in­trigued sur­prise—noth­ing tasted quite as we ex­pected. This was im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent in the Se­lec­tion of Hot & Cold Seafood Ap­pe­tiz­ers (VND390,000) served as an eclec­tic range of bite-sized por­tions with cap­sicum and green bean sauces. The sword­fish and salmon carpac­cios were pre­pared in a sim­ple overnight mari­nade to bring out hid­den nu­ances; the mor­eish crab gratin was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally warm in fla­vor. Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing taster was the fried zuc­chini stuffed with sword­fish with its per­fectly un­der­stated body and fresh­ness on the palate.

‘NAMO’s Crab Tagli­olini al Nero (VND390,000) is a clas­sic of Barone’s sig­na­ture style, with its home­made pasta in­fused with squid ink to en­hance the in­ten­sity of the spicy crab ragout. The pasta is made from scratch, ev­ery fea­ture bear­ing the crafts­man­ship and bal­anc­ing of ex­tremes of its cre­ator.

One of the more im­pres­sive-look­ing dishes is the free-range Baby Chicken

(also VND390,000) folded origamistyle with a crisp, golden skin and thin layer of Pom­mery mus­tard seeds pressed into the moist flesh. The mar­i­na­tion process in­fuses the meat with fine herbal fla­vors be­fore the fowl is grilled and served with roasted po­ta­toes.

‘NAMO’s food is art—whether you en­joy it ca­su­ally or at­ten­tively is up to the in­di­vid­ual diner. This prin­ci­ple ex­tended into the desserts—we tried the de­li­ciously moist Ti­ramisu (VND150,000) drenched with es­presso and ul­tra-fresh mas­car­pone cream, as well as the Triple Choco­late Mousse (VND150,000), crafted to re­veal con­trast­ing dimensions in the choco­late for those who en­joy com­plex desserts not over­whelmed by their sug­ars.

We barely scratched the sur­face of ‘NAMO’s new cre­ations—in­trigued din­ers should in­ves­ti­gate some of the venue’s other pre­mium dishes, which in­clude the cherry tomato-in­fused Lin­guine with Spicy Lobster (VND450,000) and the Pizza Tast­ing Plat­ter (VND490,000) fea­tur­ing a mini-trio of au­then­tic Ste­fano Fer­rara wood-fired piz­zas. If you do dine at ‘NAMO this month and drop off your name card, you’ll be in the draw to win a round-trip ticket to Rome or Mi­lan from Thai Air­ways. Just re­mem­ber, no mat­ter when you ex­pe­ri­ence this venue, be pre­pared to take your time with ev­ery mouth­ful—the restau­rant’s care­ful at­ten­tion to the po­etry of its fla­vors are de­signed to re­ward the as­tute diner.

Hot & cold seafood ap­pe­tiz­ers

Free-range baby chicken; Crab Tagli­olini al Nero

Triple choco­late mousse

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