After nearly two years living in Chennai and dining our way around the city’s scrumptious treats from explosive pani puri and crispy dosai and steamy idli and sambar to farther afield to delicate dim sum and other-worldly nasi goreng and Asia’s best kept culinary secret, honey lotus stems, Sarah and I recently realized we both shared an unsatisfied craving for that basic, universal delight: a fabulous, toothsome pizza!
While Chennai and our travels in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, have offered us opportunities to expand our basic Midwestern US palate, every now and then you just need to salve that yearning for an ingrained flavor and texture combination. So, what perfect timing for us to notice that Nolita had opened recently as part of the Ikhaya Artisanal Boutique House complex off Anderson Road in Nungambakkam.
Having no idea what to expect, and having fallen a bit short in our few samplings of pizzas around town, we didn’t set our expectations too high. Oh, man, were we in for a treat! As we entered Nolita, we were greeted and initially we chose an inside table by the windows since the outside piazza (sorry, it really does look Mediterranean) seemed ablaze with the noontime sun. But as we started to settle in, Peter, the manager of Nolita, stopped by and suggested we at least check out the al fresco seating.
Aha, there was indeed a table in a secluded nook, shaded nicely under a tree and even enjoying a gentle breeze. Perfetto! We scanned the menu and failed to agree on a mutual choice, so we elected to sample a couple pizzas . . . To start, anyway. One of the considerations that makes a great restaurant, for Sarah and me, is the offering of dishes that are both comfortably familiar yet tantalizingly unique, and Nolita scored quickly with the Roasted Pear Quattro Formaggio and the Prosciutto & Rucola pies—we subbed in fresh basil for the rocket. REAL cheeses, REAL sourdough! What a startling contrast of the savory complexity of the orchestra of cheeses, starring a nutty grana padano, with the subtle, slightly dark, solo sweetness of the roasted pears. Unique taste experience indeed! Of course, who can resist the smoky saltiness of genuine prosciutto in harmony with the aromatic, minty tang of basil? Another quick score!
Yet the true star of the pizza performance had to be that sine qua non of great pizza, the sourdough crust. Shreya, one of the owners, told us at Nolita they pride themselves in the quality of their dough, always a slow-fermented sour dough that ferments and proofs overnight. Each piece of dough is hand stretched and never feels the weight of a rolling pin, so the pizzas are seldom perfectly circular. The pizzas are baked at 400-450C in a brick oven, resulting in a light and airy crust that is also crispy yet soft at the same time.
In other words, for Sarah and me, a perfect crust!
Shreya then guided us to sample a couple of pasta dishes. Nolita encourages a delicious design-your-own approach and she walked us first through the sauces and ingredients selection, then recommended the right pasta to best set them off. We went for the Lemon Cream & Tarragon and added some chicken, paired with traditional spaghetti to create the perfect accompaniment. Then, given our love of basil, we couldn’t resist the Pesto Genoise with some roasted veggies to showcase a lovely penne.
Both dishes were delightfully rich, with the pastas perfectly al dente and the sauces exquisitely creamy. Oh, sooooo creamy! We realized we missed out on a tomato based sauce, so next time we’ll grab the Pomodoro & Basil. The flavors were subtle and gentle, quietly granting the pasta the right level of interest. Sarah suggested the Lemon Cream & Tarragon sauce might benefit from a grating of lemon zest at table side to spark the tang, while I found it perfect as served.
So, did we have room for dessert? Who can say no to tiramisu, especially when served family style table side? Made without the traditional liqueur, the considerable dollops Peter scooped onto our plates was still full on eccellente, with just the right balance of the espresso soaked lady fingers and the silky smoothness of the mascarpone and cream filling. Sarah and I both found it one of the best tiramisus we’ve tried, and we agreed that when Nolita strives for creaminess, they go all the way!
Bottom line, Nolita serves up simply fabulous pizza’s, with a sourdough crust topped by simple yet unique ingredients, and their pastas are a definite match, again with fascinating combinations and subtle flavorings and, yes, that astounding creaminess. So, next time Sarah and I will have to try the soups and salads and the inviting antipasti menu. Okay, and maybe the warm chocolate torta.
Nolita is a small and intimate 40 seat pizzeria that draws inspiration from the Neapolitan style pizza making commonly found in the Nolita neighborhood in New York City. Like SoHo, Nolita is the chic term for North of Little Italy in Manhattan. (Since I relate everything in the Apple to my favorite destination, it’s only a 15-minute cab ride south of Nat Sherman Cigars at 42nd and 5th Avenue. Just saying.) Nolita is credited to have had one of the first pizzerias in America, so it’s the perfect and evocative name for Chennai’s latest homage to the ubiquitous dish. The decor in the restaurant is a mix of Mediterranean chic meets contemporary with both the indoor and outdoor spaces comfy yet cozy.
“At Nolita, we only use the freshest all natural ingredients we can get our hands on. We keep processed ingredients to a minimum preferring to make almost everything from scratch in our kitchens. We have choices on our menu that accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions like Vegan, Gluten Free, etc.”
6 Nawab Habibullah Avenue, 1st Street, Off, Anderson Rd, Nungambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600006
Contact number: +91 80652 06305
12.30pm to 3.30pm
6.30pm to 10.30pm
Price per person:
The average price per person is Rs. 400 at the restaurant.
- Contains indoor and outdoor seating. Indoor area is air-conditioned
- Has an area that is wheel chair accessible
- Pets are allowed in the al fresco area
- Menu is kid friendly and menu can be customized to accommodate dietary restrictions