It may have gotten off to a rocky start, but Chris Bianco's Italian Restaurant has been earning rave reviews from local foodists for many months now. Problem was: Only hardcore food folks made the connection between the generic name and the famous pizza guy behind it.
So Bianco, an inveterate tweak-till-you-get-it-right kind of person, is changing Italian Restaurant's name to Trattoria Bianco, moving that piece of the operation to the dining room at the back of the Italian Restaurant space. But there's more.
Essentially, Italian Restaurant is being split into two restaurants. The front part, where most of us have been dining for the past year, will become Pizzeria Bianco, offering the same six pizzas found at the downtown location plus antipasti, a market salad, and what Bianco calls "a slightly different wrinkle," a phrase that gives him the freedom to add things at whim -- whether his or Chef John Hall's.
Meanwhile, the lovely back dining room -- which actually looks a bit like an old-fashioned living room -- will become Trattoria Bianco, bringing Italian Restaurant's menu with it. Bianco explains that it's "always a work in progress," adding that he plans to soundproof the high-ceiling room and plans, down the line, to offer a relaxed Sunday lunch, offering the sorts of dishes Bianco remembers eating at home on Sundays: something braised long and slow, something with gravy, maybe some macaroni in a bowl. All very homey.
For now, the trattoria will be open only in the evening, but if demand for lunch is high, that could change over time. The patio that wraps around the restaurant will be split in two, half to the pizzeria, the other half to the trattoria.
Bianco says his landlord had urged him to open a pizzeria at Town & Country from the get-go, but at the time, he was more interested in creating a chef-driven place using family recipes. After settling into the space, he realized he wanted to re-connect with old customers (Bianco got his start in this very mall when he took over the space vacated by Rancho Pinot, who moved to Scottsdale in 1994). He says he's always been frustrated that people had to wait so long at the original Pizzeria Bianco location. Now, they won't have to.
As for Italian Restaurant's name, he says, "It was a great story, how I arrived at that name, and it had deep meaning for me, but none of that matters if you have to explain it. If you name your dog Fido, a lot of dogs come running."
And by the way, Pizzeria Bianco T&C will get some of Pane Bianco's sandwiches, as will the original location. "It's all very incestuous, " Bianco says.