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But I've gotten ahead of myself, food-wise. Let's back it up to the antipasti, which were somewhat hit or miss. I especially adored the cozze arrabbiata -- poached mussels in a spicy tomato sauce. The mussels tasted fresh and tender, and the arrabbiata was fortunately not as hot and spicy as I've had elsewhere. Everyone seemed to like the calamari fritti with lemon aioli, though I kept wishing the fried squid had come drenched in the same arrabbiata that was on my cozze. Both Madame X and I found ourselves dipping our calamari into the arrabbiata left over from the mussels, and, seeing us, our friends followed suit.
The only antipasto I really did not enjoy was the bruschetta, which seemed quite dull. The stiff country bread was extraordinarily thin, even for bruschetta, and the toppings were just too pat: roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and finally, minced olives. Not that it was unappetizing, but I've had better, more inspired bruschetta elsewhere.
The entrees seemed equally scattershot, to judge from what I tasted off the plates of my compadres. Sir David had spaghetti and meatballs, and though the meatballs were of a nice size (Chicago-style, they told us), the sauce seemed far too salty and spicy. It used to be that the one thing you could trust on any Italian menu was the spaghetti and meatballs in marinara or some other tomato-based sauce, but no more. I guess everyone's ashamed to serve their patrons a simple, thick tomato sauce as there are so many good ones to be had on the market. But this is basically a cop-out, and I'd remind restaurateurs that some items are best done simply if at all.
211 E. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2412
Region: Central Phoenix
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.
Leave it to the Countess to choose the winning plate of the evening, a special of NY strip with a pink sauce of Gorgonzola, butter and tomato paste. That sauce made that cut of meat, and I liked it so much I'd pour it on my Wheaties in the mornin'. If il Palazzetto's corporate overlords don't make it a permanent part of the menu, they're crazier than Aileen Wuornos was in her day. Would that my roasted veal chop had been topped with same! It was a tender piece of stripling cow, but really needed something to make the flavor pop. As there was no sauce of any kind, I found it tedious to munch on despite its high price tag.
The other entrees we had, the linguini with littleneck clams, the meat tortellini in cream sauce, and the roasted garlic chicken, all tasted satisfactory. But just that -- satisfactory. Nothing else quite impressed on the level of that steak with Gorgonzola sauce. This is where I begin to suspect that chef Volpi needs to be unchained if il Palazzetto is to overtake the mark of standard corporate fare. A great restaurant is always better when it's a reflection of the personality of a great chef.
At last, I should compliment il Palazzetto on its small but well-chosen wine list, which according to Schreiner was chosen by none other than Don Colangelo himself. Selections such as Silverado Sangiovese, Byron Pinot Noir and Raymond Reserve are all topnotch. Even if his plans for downtown are one part Mussolini and one part Mickey Mouse, the cat knows his vino, you have to give him that.
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