By Emily Harrington
We’ve never really established another go-to dinner spot after our favorite date destination closed a few years ago.
On New Year’s Eve my husband and I went to the new Nando Milano Trattoria. Nando (named after the owner’s pup) opened at the end of November. It replaced the old Carrie’s Fabulous to Funky retail space at 204 N. Neil St. in downtown Champaign.
The owner, Dario Vullo, fell in love with the area and saw a genre of cuisine — authentic Italian — that was lacking. Dario and his chef brother, Alessio Vullo, are no stranger to the Midwest palate. They are simultaneously running a successful Nando in Wicker Park in Chicago. They are also no strangers to the restaurant business following in a long line of family restaurateurs.
Their knowledge and experience shows. It was really, really good.
We luckily found street parking right outside, but you could always park at the Hill Street Parking Deck. The restaurant looks first class from the outside and is echoed on the inside with the use of wood, iron and glass. Dark, cozy and romantic. There is a large bar when you first walk in with a separate area for dining. Tables line the middle of the room with banquet seating lining the perimeter.
I felt a little crowded at our table on the side of the room. I had to squeeze into my seat and was close enough to clearly hear the tables next to us (quite entertaining as they drank more and more vino). That would be about my only criticism. Oh, that and the price. It’s pricey in relation to other fancy Champaign-Urbana restaurants.
There were two menus — the typical menu and the “Chef Specials” menu. Keep in mind our meals were on the lower end for dinners. Fish and meat dishes were much more.
We shared the fried calamari for $15. The fried deliciousness was served with a “secret” green sauce and a spicy tomato sauce.
I had a salad for $9 and rigatoni with spicy sausage and peas in a cream and tomato sauce for $16.
My husband had the lentil soup for $10 and fettuccine in meat sauce for $19. So freaking good. We soaked up every last drop with the bread they provided.
OK, yes, we had dessert too! The shame. It was NYE! I had molten chocolate cake for $10, and my husband had cheesecake for the same price. Both served with gelato. Both worth every calorie. Both worth every penny.
So, without any booze our price before tip was just under $100.
They feature an extensive book of Italian alcoholic beverages, too. These range in cost and portion options. All of the bread, pasta and desserts are made by hand. There are also whole wheat and gluten-free pasta options.
Now, here’s the tough part. I would not pay $20 for my toddler to throw most of his meal on Nando’s floor. I’ll save our family dining for Panera. In my humble opinion, this is a date destination and not a family restaurant. Unless your kiddos have sophisticated palates and a lucrative paper route that can help pay the bill, leave them at home. Get a babysitter and make reservations soon!
Nando Milano Trattoria adds Italian to the growing list of destination-worthy restaurants in our area. As the owner put it: our community knows food. This restaurant will make all foodies here very happy. Even the non-foodie (simply hungry townie) like me could appreciate the quality and great eats here.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life, because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son—a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.