The Mangia Event

My only pasta complaint: It's what isn't on the menu. I wish the kitchen would consider adding a simple dish of pasta drizzled with some good olive oil, a bit of basil and a tablespoon of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. My heart starts racing at just the thought of it.

Of course, you could order something other than pasta here, like chicken parmigiana, veal marsala or salmon sauteed with lemon and butter. I just can't imagine why you'd want to.

Homemade desserts are almost as much of a knockout as the pasta. The "special" tiramisu really is--a formidable hunk of cream-laden ladyfingers soaked with port and drizzled with a coating of warm Belgian chocolate. I'll bet most plates are returned to the kitchen looking like ours--with every last crumb scraped off. Cannoli, filled to bursting with sweetened ricotta and flecked with pistachios, are also first-rate.

Location Info

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Al Dente's Italian Ristorante

14850 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: North Scottsdale

The wine list features several bargain-priced Argentine wines. But I was struck by the presence of a Cháteau Lafite-Rothschild priced at $260, and a La Mission Haut-Brion at $160.

What's the story? It seems that a retired CEO eats here frequently and wants great high-end wine to accompany his pasta.

Give that man credit. When it comes to both wine and pasta, he's clearly got big-time taste.

La Vigna Ristorante, 3539 West Bell, Phoenix, 978-5507. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.

We'll probably have to wait until the year 2999 to see fresh fettuccine on the west side. But in the meantime, folks who live along the avenues aren't entirely out of luck in their search for good-quality, high-value Italian fare. That's because now there's La Vigna.

Open since last spring, La Vigna is a delightful mom-pop-daughter operation. The patriarch hails from Ischia, an island off Naples, and he ran Italian restaurants in New York. But you don't need me to tell you his culinary origins. This food shouts out "Big Apple Italian."

The place looks like it was transported out of a Queens or Brooklyn neighborhood. Inspect the vintage family photos. Listen to the piped-in Sinatra, opera and home-country tunes. Sit in the gazebo area, at linen-lined tables. And mangia.

Start off with a nifty antipasto, a plenty-for-three platter of salami, anchovies, hard-boiled egg, pickled cauliflower, artichokes, cheese and peppers. The Ischia salad is just as impressive, tomato topped with fresh mozzarella, embellished with anchovies and red pepper, all freshened with a basil-tinged vinaigrette. I couldn't get too worked up, however, over the mussels marinara, which could have used more seasoning oomph.

The obligatory dinner salad is forgettable. But most of the entrees aren't.
You'll have no trouble remembering the ripping fettuccine carbonara. If you're very quiet, you can practically hear your arteries hardening from the high-octane cream and cheese sauce, brightened with bits of pancetta. The lasagna is also praiseworthy--the cook goes light on the sauce so you can taste the cheese and meat. Meanwhile, the slab of eggplant parmigiana tastes like it just flew in from the old neighborhood. "We peel the eggplant," says the proprietor, "so there's no bitter skin. That's why it's so sweet." Whatever he's doing, he's doing it right.

The kitchen also puts together appealing veal, chicken and seafood entrees, almost all in the $12 to $15 range.

It's a range easy to be at home on, especially if you order the shrimp and scungilli Fra Diavolo. The crustaceans are big and meaty; the scungilli (conch) is surprisingly tender; the sauce has just the right peppery bite; and everything's tossed over pasta. Bracciola is another winning option, beef lined with prosciutto, then stuffed with sausage and cheese and rolled up. Veal piccata features four thin medallions, heaped with capers and invigorated by a wine and lemon sauce. And a lusty sauce boosted by mushrooms and sherry keeps chicken marsala from its usual dullness.

The one lackluster dish: linguini alla vodka, done in by weak sausage and too light a hand with the garlic and spices.

The homemade desserts are a highlight. Cannoli are whoppingly rich, studded with chocolate chips and gilded with fresh cream. The moist ricotta cheesecake is simply a marvel. And tiramisu is exceptionally creamy and intense.

La Vigna can't turn the west side into the old neighborhood all by itself. But it's a good start.

Al Dente's:
Cannelloni di ricotta
$11.95
Tiramisu
6.50

La Vigna Ristorante:
Antipasto
$6.50
Shrimp and scungilli Fra Diavolo
14.

50

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