When J. Razzo’s (12501 N. Meridian St., Carmel, 317-844-9333), a new far-north restaurant with a local pedigree, opened a few weeks ago, there was a built-in buzz factor. Of course, Indy’s enduring obsession with good Italian food has been well publicized (as is only fitting for a cuisine imported from a country shaped like a boot to a state shaped like a sock). But this Carmel ristorante also boasted the golden touch of John Perazzo, the former chef at Indy institution Salvatore’s and, later, co-owner of downtown’s recently deceased Zing—an ancestry worthy of kissed fingertips in and of itself.
Perazzo’s beige-on-taupe dining room makes sexy use of the strip-mall space, a former Monical’s Pizza. Marbled brown glass pendants hanging over recessed booths light the room once the sun goes down, adding to the seduction of black cloth napkins on crisp white tablecloths. You get the picture. Servers in black fit the part, keeping water glasses full and bread baskets switched out, though sometimes their shtick feels a bit forced: “Have you picked a lovely red wine to go with your meal?” ours wondered, unnecessarily overselling.
Everything on the menu is categorized neatly under Appetizers, Soups & Salads, Pizza, Pastas, Seafood, Chicken, and Meat—a refreshing change from all those meandering lists that read like circus posters. A standard-issue bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil (one of three topped breads on the menu, along with two types of crostini) paired nicely with the cheesy richness of our other appetizer: fried risotto balls drizzled in creamy tomato sauce. A nice table bread would have been appreciated for sopping up the sauces left on our appetizer plates, but those puffy breadsticks—oddly hollow and chewy at once—in the basket at the center of our table just weren’t up for the job.
The Salvatore’s faithful will recognize at least one dish on the menu. The Chicken Veneto, a holdout from Perazzo’s previous venture, simmers strips of chicken in white wine, garlic, pistachios, artichoke hearts, and parsley. We already had our eye on the osso bucco. It wasn’t ready, so we regrouped and settled on a perfectly acceptable veal Marsala with a salty wine-mushroom demi-glaze. (Too bad the side bowl of spaghetti that came with it was served too cool to combine with the sauce on the plate.) We tried the carbonara, a fusilli version with pancetta, mushrooms, Parmesan, and a fresh egg that our server stirred into the mix at the table. The dish got richer as it cooled—but it never thickened past the consistency of a cream-based soup. Our third dish, cioppino—fisherman’s stew—hit the spot. A hunk of meaty white fish rose from the center of a shallow bowl that our server pronounced as “about as blazing hot as a thousand suns.” Shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels had been cooked gently in a spicy tomato broth, the juices of the shellfish flavoring the steaming soup. We will happily sit in a dark corner slurping away at this dish, sipping Italian reds by the glass, while this promising beauty of a restaurant works out a few kinks.