Colangelo's Kitchen

Our cafe critic goes Italian under America West Arena

For whatever blasted reason, my missteps have been costing me beaucoup simoleons of late. So I thought I'd share these with you that you might gain wisdom from my blunders, much along the same lines as we all stand to benefit from Christina Aguilera's decision to go skanky or Miss Spears marrying a redneck from the bayou back home.

My first pratfall came when I plunked down $12 to go to this "American Beauty" exhibition on display through March 14 at the Phoenix Art Museum, though I should have been suspicious of any art show on loan to us from Detroit -- hardly the cultural capital of the universe. The show seeks to educate us about American painting and sculpture from 1770 to 1920, but I quickly found that I'd forked over a dozen smackers to learn that prior to the 1880s, most American art sucked donkey. Other than pieces from expatriates such as John Singer Sargent or Julius Stewart, most of what's in "American Beauty" could rival Thomas "The Painter of Light" Kinkade in atrociousness.

I experienced a similarly distasteful loss of funds on my first visit to the new Italian eatery il Palazzetto (the "little palace") at Jerry Colangelo's America West Arena. But this had less to do with the quality of what was served than the fact that I inadvertently chose a game night to meet a passel of pals there: among these, Uncle Edward, his nephew Lance, the charming, pale-skinned Countess Cynthia, her escort Sir David, and my own lady love, the beautiful Madame X. Driving past il Palazzetto, I felt like the White Rabbit looking for that hole in the hedge, save for the fact I was seeking a parking space! My whole party was already outside waiting for me as I realized the joint has no valet service.

Cooking for Colangelo: Chef de cuisine Andrea Volpi (left) with executive chef Francisco Sanchez.
Jackie Mercandetti
Cooking for Colangelo: Chef de cuisine Andrea Volpi (left) with executive chef Francisco Sanchez.

Location Info

Map

IL Palazzetto

211 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2412

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Central Phoenix

Details

Mussels arrabbiata: $8
Side of Chicago-style
meatballs: $6
Wood-roasted veal chop: $34
Tiramisu: $8

602-514-8500. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to close; closed Sunday.

211 East Jefferson (at America West Arena)

I was forced to park in a structure two blocks away and pay $6 for the annoyance. Not that I begrudge the $6, but why not have a valet service that charges $6 on game nights? Then a guest about to drop a couple of C-notes, like moi, can begin one's dining experience without fear of a stroke. Apparently this is too much trouble for the management company, Levy Restaurants, which operates establishments nationwide from Atlanta to Oakland.

Another thing that bugged me, which I might as well get off my chest right now, were the TV screens tuned in to the bloody game so we had to watch the Suns while supping. The TV screens would have fit well in a Hooters, maybe, but at a high-end Eye-tie hash house where entrees run as high as $34? I know, I know: "It's at the arena, bubblehead, what did you expect?" But trebling the irritation was the fact that one wall of the restaurant opens out onto the arena's concession stands. This means that during halftime, one shares air with the hoi polloi as they grab a sandwich at Subway. There is a black curtain that can be closed to block this mall activity from view, but once again, the restaurant's management only saw fit to pull it after the game was over. I'm sure they were hoping to attract lager louts from the game, but what about those of us who were already their guests? Once again, the lesson is to avoid il Palazzetto when the Suns are at home like beef from a cow with BSE.

The interior is sleek, with tan wood paneling on the walls and ceilings, a glass-and-steel wine vault dividing the place, an open kitchen in the back, and armless wooden chairs with charcoal gray cushions that match the carpeting. I discovered when I returned a week later for lunch that with the curtains pulled, seated away from the bar and the TV sets, the ambiance was pleasant and relaxing. Indeed, during a late lunch, with the place pretty much to myself, and with Sade and Dean Martin taking turns crooning on the stereo, I felt quite at peace and generally delighted in the food and the excellent service.

The menu leans heavily toward corporate taste buds, and I think this is more a reflection of the desires of bosses than chef Andrea Volpi, formerly of his own Scottsdale place, La Locanda, who when left to his own devices produces some truly delectable platters. "It's Levy's menu," he admitted recently when I spoke to him and manager David Schreiner. "But I try to put my spin on things."

Certainly, the tiramisu is all Volpi, and it's easily one of the better examples of this Italian "pick-me-up" in the Valley, no doubt because the Lombardy-born chef learned the recipe from his mama.

Of course, it was Uncle Edward who reminded me of the tiramisu legend, likely apocryphal, that the trifle started as a gift to a recently married couple to give them, ahem, staying power during their honeymoon. Though I cannot endorse the idea of tiramisu as an aphrodisiac, I can say that if Volpi had a ramekin large enough, I'd gladly choose death by drowning in this ambrosial mixture of espresso, mascarpone and sponge cake. Volpi's other standout dessert is his panna cotta, the white, silky, gelatinous custard that looks like molded vanilla Jell-O, if there is such a thing. These two delicacies were so memorable that the other desserts our party shared have long since faded into obscurity.

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