When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Vivo! Ristorante Location: 6560 North Scottsdale Road Open: About two weeks Eats: Italian Price: $25+ per person
The name Tomaso Maggiore should ring a bell for most Valley diners. The Maggiore family has been behind dozens of restaurants around town over the years, including, most notably, Tomaso's, the decades-old restaurant located in the Biltmore neighborhood.
Vivo! Ristorante is the latest dining spot to come from the Maggiore family and aims to bring "authentic Italian cuisine" to Scottsdale.
Vivo has been billed as a sort of restaurant/market, but the first thing you'll notice when you step inside is that the market aspect of Vivo has been grossly exaggerated. Yes, there are some bags of dried pasta and bottles of olive oil around -- but they're sitting on shelves high above the bar, out of arm's reach for most. They seem more like cute decorative elements than retail merchandise for customers to consider purchasing.
The rest of the décor vaguely reminds us of Olive Garden. We're not sure if it's the abundance of dark wood, the 1990s-looking carpet, or the kitschy "Italian" paintings on the wall, but somehow it all works together in a less-than-authentic way.
Fortunately, the opposite can be said about the service. Our friendly -- and Italian-born -- server helped us navigate the large menu and kept us smiling throughout the meal.
We started with an order of Frittura Mista di Calamari & Zucchini ($13), a fair portion of deep-fried calamari complemented by a few thin slices of zucchini. The batter needed a little boost -- salt and/or pepper would have helped a lot -- but the calamari pieces were tender. The side of marinara sauce for dipping tasted like sweet, fresh tomatoes.
Of the homemade pastas, we tried the Paccheri "Rome 101," which features large tubes of pasta in a red sauce. Pieces of guanciale added a nice meaty richness to the meal and were a nice complement to the sauce of roasted shallots and crushed tomatoes. The simplicity of the dish made it easy to like, though we don't know if the $18 price tag was totally fair.
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Vivo's pizzas might be a better option. The Bianca con Cotto Tartufato ($17) offered a beautiful, chewy crust that was charred in just the right places. Eight slices was more than enough for dinner and lunch the next day, particularly considering that each was loaded with taleggio, mozzarella, and crumbles of truffle-infused ham.
The Bufalina ($15) was also a success. With bufala mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes as a base, this pizza offered bold flavors from toppings including oven blistered cherry tomatoes, fresh arugula, and garlic.
We finished the meal with a Torta Della Nonna, a barely sweet lemon and vanilla pastry topped with layer of pine nuts and almonds. We liked the balance of flavors -- nutty, sweet, and tart all in one -- but would have liked a little larger slice for $9.