By Bob Barnes
Azzurra Cucina Italiana is adding to the revival of Water Street, and should certainly be an added reason to venture to Old Henderson as your destination. The kitchen is helmed by Alessandra Madeira and the front of the house GM duties are ably handled by her husband of 28 years, Walter Ciccone, both of whom many will remember from the same partnership when they operated Bratalian.
Azzurra Cucina Italiana Location
Situated south of the America First Center (formerly Lifeguard Arena) and City Hall, away from most of the street’s activity, there’s ample parking nearby. The small space only has seats for 30 guests but can accommodate more on the patio when the weather permits. As it’s fully booked every night unless you make a reservation, you’ll need to hope one of the seven seats at the bar are available.
Cozy Relaxed Vibe
There is a very cozy and relaxed vibe, akin to a dinner party at a friend’s home. The décor also suggests a friendly environment. Owner Windom Kimsey was the architect and had a lot to do with the interior design as well, such as large windows allowing for plenty of natural light and a view of Water Street, white brick walls, a dark wood slat ceiling, open kitchen and enchanting original artwork depicting dogs in Renaissance period garb with food and wine glasses floating around them in the air.
The name Azzurra has a double meaning, as GM Walter explained, as it is Italian for blue and there’s a popular soccer team in Rome, Azzurri (the Blues, plural of blue), with the same name. But the color scheme is well represented with shades of light blue found in the chairs and a darker steel blue in the cushions and menu covers. The three-story building Kimsey created also houses apartments, which will provide even more patrons once they open in August.
Chef Alessandra Madeira
Executive Chef Alessandra Madeira was born and grew up in Brazil, made several trips to Italy and learned to cook from her Italian mother, also helping her with her catering business. She began her career as a chef when her now famous sister Carla Pellegrino brought her over to the US to help out at her restaurants, which she has done over the past two decades, first in NYC at Baldoria.
Reflecting back on her start she says, “One day when she (Carla) was opening Rao’s in Vegas she said to me, ‘Congratulations, you are the new (executive) chef of Baldoria.’ And I said, What? I can’t! and she said, ‘Yes, you can,’ and that was my life.”
In 2011 Chef Alessandra joined her sister in Las Vegas at Rao’s, Baccio, Meatball Spot and Bratalian. Now with Azzurra she is breaking out on her own and stepping out from her sister’s shadow.
The Food Menu
Chef Alessandra describes her food as “simple, clean, not greasy, no butter, just salt and pepper and a little garlic and virgin (olive oil).” When asked which are her favorite dishes on the menu, she listed the (gluten free) Zucchini Noodles served with shrimp, which has become one of the best sellers. As she has many followers from Bratalian, she brought back the pan seared double cut Pork Chop Agrodolce with chili peppers and white wine sauce, the same as it was at Bratalian.
Other popular dishes are the nightly specials, which include a Fish, Meat, Risotto and Soup of the Day, and sometimes a salad special. During our visit the specials offered included a Pan-fried Halibut with cherry tomatoes, spinach, black olives, capers and white wine sauce; 16-oz Veal Chop with a mushroom port reduction; Calamari Soup; and Shrimp Risotto.
Must-haves on the menu include the Bread Basket—fresh baked mini rolls and bread sticks and seasonal butter; Roasted Beet Salad with baby spring mix lettuce with balsamic vinaigrette topped with goat cheese; Chicken Marsala with mushrooms and a delicious Marsala wine sauce served with mashed potatoes; and the humongous Chicken Parmesan, which Chef Alessandra says is the same as the one she use to make at Bratalian but she has made it her own, by upgrading it with a basil ricotta cream topping.
As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of grilled octopus, I had to give Azzurra’s a try and I absolutely was not disappointed. I was delighted to experience the most tender Spanish octopus I have ever encountered. When asked her secret, Chef Alessandra explained it is never boiled, but simmered slowly for an hour with white wine, lemon juice, bay leaf and thyme. And it’s also enhanced with the cannellini beans, EVOO and lemon juice it’s served with.
Complementing the inspired fare is a wine list with about 60 bottles, 18 of which are offered by the glass, like the Valtiglioni Barolo and Daou Cabernet. There’s also an extensive whiskey list, with gems such as Nevada-made Frey Ranch Bourbon, the Japanese Nikka Whiskey Coffey Grain and the Scottish McCallan 18 Year.
Chef Alessandra shared that she especially enjoys being a pastry chef and she now gets to do so on a daily basis. The dessert menu changes daily, and pretty much every day you can expect something creative and fun like Passionfruit or Hazelnut Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, Ricotta Cheesecake and Nutella or Chocolate Cake.
As for the prices, they are extremely reasonable, especially considering the very high quality of both ingredients and skill of the chef.
Antipasta dishes range from $5-$18, with most around $12-$15; pastas hover just above the $20 price point; and mains are $26-$48, with the most economical being the Chicken Scarpariello — a half-roasted chicken with Italian sausage and bell peppers for $26.
More deals can be found during the daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. with beer for $4, white wine $7, red wine $8 and cocktails $10; calamari, two meatballs, chicken drumettes and fried cauliflower $8; Penne alla Vodka and Gnocchi Bolognese for $11; and Antipasto della Casa with two meats and two cheeses for $18.
After several years of being in her celebrity chef sister’s shadow, with this new venture it appears Chef Alessandra has broken out into her own spotlight, as the presentation of creative dishes with her own spin is shining a light on her many talents in the kitchen. Hours are Monday to Saturday 4 to 10 p.m. Don’t forget to make a reservation!
322 South Water Street