For the last quarter-century or so, fine-dining Italian has meant Northern fare—pale, delicate Alfredos and risottos that could almost pass for Swiss.
Meanwhile, those of us preferring the bold, swarthy style of the south have been ghettoized to meatball subs and plastic menus. Like the Roman consul Corvus (370-270 B.C.), Ava Gene's is a powerful force for unifying Italy.
This Division Street spot does whole-boot cookery, making great use of the spicy, spreadable Calabrian pork sausage known as nduja, a hard sheep's milk cheese of Sardinia, Sicilian cannoli, Northern Italian Leporati prosciutto, and spaghetti made with protein-rich kamut wheat that could replace your whey shake. A typical meal will take you up and down the peninsula.
Order the meat plate ($15 moderate, $29 giant) with gorgeous slices of prosciutto, some herbed olives and a seasonal salad. Get a few pastas ($20-$22) and a big hunk of meat, like the pork chop with a sweet pepper and pole beans. Throughout the menu, Ava Gene's always finds its balance—between spice and starchy, saltiness and acidity, sweet and meaty. It's everything right about Italian cuisine, and all at once.
Eat: The menu changes often but look to the P's—prosciutto, pasta and pork.
Drink: I like to start with an aperitif of Vergano Americano ($10) and then tip the sparklers, but the cocktails are excellent.
Most popular dish: Borlotti bean pane with rosemary and garlic.
Noise level: 50/100
Who you'll eat with: Older folks with black clothes and large jewelry, young couples wearing gendered versions of the same outfit.
Year opened: 2012
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