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New Italian restaurant to open in downtown Henderson

On a stretch of South Water Street in downtown Henderson — in a trio of sleek buildings owing something to Bauhaus, to De Stijl and (in counterpoise) to the steep pitch of classic Dutch gables — Windom Kimsey is close to completing his take on live-work-play.

Kimsey occupies a three-story rowhouse in the center. The building to one side houses TSK, his architecture firm. Azzurra Cucina Italiana, his restaurant, is set to open in February on the ground floor of the building to the other side. A mural of hibiscus blossoms luxuriating about a laughing skull — aloha shirt meets Day of the Dead — explodes in fuchsia and orange across an exterior wall of the mixed-use complex (which Kimsey built).

“There was a missing piece here. It was missing food, and why not have it next to my house?” Kimsey said of his decision to open the restaurant, in an exclusive discussion with the Review-Journal. “There was not a lot of strategic planning. It was a gut feeling.”

Getting the band back together

Kimsey was once a frequent customer at Bratalian Neapolitan Cantina, which closed in Henderson in 2018. Alessandra Madeira was chef de cuisine. Her husband, Walter Ciccone, a native of Rome, was general manager. The three became friends. Regulars loved the clubby feel and freedom of Bratalian.

“I would find people in my office changing the music,” Ciccone said.

About 18 months ago, when the friends began creating Azzurra — Italian for “blue” and the jersey color of Italy’s national soccer team — Bratalian served as inspiration, with Ciccone reprising his role as general manager and Madeira now executive chef.

“I missed their restaurant. Bratalian was a good starting point,” Kimsey said. “It was bringing back something that was really nice in your life. Azzurra definitely has the DNA of the other restaurant.”

Familiar dishes, familiar faces

The menu reflects those origins, with many of Azzura’s classic Italian preparations being familiar from Bratalian.

There is Caprese salad, a heap of fried calamari, chef Alessandra’s meatballs fashioned from pork, veal and beef. Penne alla vodka and a snarl of linguine with clams count among the pastas. Meat and fish run to chicken marsala, salmon spiked with lemon caper sauce and daily specials.

And don’t forget the pork chops agrodolce. “I had to bring the pork chops,” chef Madeira said of one of her signature dishes. Is she looking forward to returning to the kitchen after planning Azzurra? “Finally.”

There are new items, too, like tempura cauliflower with house buffalo sauce, wagyu carpaccio with traditional adjutants (shaved Parmesan, capers, arugula), and a tangle of squid ink linguine.

It’s not just dishes that are returning from Bratalian, Ciccone said.

“People have been waiting for us to open. Many of our customers are going to be our followers (from Bratalian). But it’s not only familiar faces as customers. It’s also going to be familiar faces as the service. Old employees are coming back.”

On the terrace and the court

Azzurra encompasses about 1,000 square feet of 322 S. Water St., with rental apartments upstairs. Olive trees garnish a terrace with lounge seating. A blank wall awaits enlivening at one end. What should go in? A mosaic? Garden trompe l’oeil? A replica of a Roman Baroque fountain? Kimsey has yet to decide. (Certainly not a flower wall, now a restaurant cliché.)

Azzurra, about 70 seats total inside and out, won’t have a coffee bar or a grab-and-go counter. “It’s mainly sit-down,” Kimsey said. “It’s not bar-like. There’s a certain intimacy to it.”

Kimsey said he hoped that atmosphere would draw folks, including those from surrounding offices, to South Water Street, which is still emerging as a dining destination. A recently installed bocce court offers six colorful murals and another kind of play.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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