Since it opened early last year, James Beard Award winner Chris Bianco's Italian Restaurant in Central Phoenix has had its fair share of troubles. There were complaints about portion sizes, uppity staff, uncomfortable seating -- and then, as if things couldn't get any worse, Bianco parted ways last May with chef Claudio Urciuoli.
An odd situation for a Valley legend, to be sure. But over the past few months, Bianco has been addressing the issues head-on. He's lowered prices (and ditched charging customers for bread and olive oil), upped portion sizes, hired a GM to work on staffing, and found a new chef in John Hall, who owned and operated Canela Bistro in Sonoita, Arizona, with his wife from 2005 to 2012.
And as early as last week, Bianco put the finishing touches on a facelift for Italian Restaurant. And the changes look like a few more steps in the right direction.
As customers enter the restaurant, the first notable difference is the new pizza oven. The counter in front of it, once used as a rather tight and uncomfortable spot where a few diners could sip wine, is (thankfully) no more.
The front dining area now includes a dining counter at the back of the space, is sans community table, and will be primarily used for lunch service. Dinner will happen in what is sure to be one of Bianco's best updates to Italian Restaurant: An adjoining spacious and chic new dining area.
Featuring a central community table, several small tables sat comfortably away from each other, and Bianco's shabby-chic decor style, the stylish, open space (entered past the counter in the front of the restaurant and through a curtain) will be used for dinner service only. Many of Bianco's paintings have been grouped together on one of the new dining area's walls. "Where did Sophia [Loren] go?" a curious customer asked me as I was snapping photos.