Chow Bella

What's So Skinny About The Skinny Italian Kitchen?

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: The Skinny Italian Kitchen Location: 5415 East High Street Open: Almost two weeks. Eats: Italian Price Point: $11 to $30

What's so skinny about The Skinny Italian Kitchen? I'm still asking myself that question.

A new concept from Mancuso Restaurants Inc. (led by New York native and longtime Valley restaurateur Bobby Mancuso, who also owns Bobby's Restaurant and Jazz Lounge), the restaurant opened almost two weeks ago at CityCenter of CityNorth, the planned area of shops, businesses, and living spaces in North Phoenix.

Open for lunch and dinner, The Skinny Italian Kitchen (TSIK) says it features traditional Italian fare (think antipasti, salads, pasta, and pizza) with a healthy twist using Mancuso's mother's sauces and recipes.

But unless cheese has recently been updated to vegetable status (dare to dream), I'm still scratching my head on this one.

Other than a small category on the menu called "Skinny Pasta," offering choices of whole wheat spaghetti and two gluten-free pasta options, TSIK's dishes don't come across as anything other than traditional favorites found in most Italian restaurants. And unfortunately, they're not exceptional enough -- at least for now -- to make the restaurant destination dining.

For starters, there are small, stuffed mushrooms ($9) that, flavor-wise, come up short on their stated filling of Italian sausage, Romano cheese, garlic, onions, and basil (I never got past the sausage) and arrive nearly covered in a thin and rather unremarkable Alfredo sauce.

In the non-skinny pasta category there is a cannelloni al forno ($14) made with veal, beef, and spinach and covered with fontina cheese. This dish, too, suffered a lack of flavor in its filling, but at least was accompanied by a marinara with a deep, smoky flavor.

Thanks to the red sauce, the pasta dish fared better overall than my 11-inch goat cheese pizza with pesto sauce, pancetta, red onion, fennel, and tomato ($12). Featuring a thin crust that was a chewier than what I would have liked and heavy with olive oil, this pie didn't skimp on the goat cheese but did on the pancetta.

If TSIK truly wants its customers to understand its concept, it might want to spend some additional time training its servers. Although mine was friendly and efficient, she didn't seem to understand the "skinny" aspect of the food any more than I did. In fact, when she recommended the chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream ($5) for dessert, we both started laughing.

"Now, what's skinny about that?" I asked.

"I don't know," she replied, "but it's really good."

She was right. It was. The brownie was near perfect. Wonderfully warm and with a flaky top on a dense (but not too dense) fudgy base. Along with bites of vanilla ice cream, I felt as comfortable eating it as I did sitting in TSIK's welcoming interior with its subtle lighting, polished wood, and contemporary patterns and wall art (Although, I could have done without the 70's light rock soundtrack.).

TSIK has much to do if it truly wants to stand out and not become just another mediocre Italian restaurant in the Valley. Getting customers to understand its concept is one, but more important than the concept is the food. And skinny or not, that's what's will (or won't) bring diners back.

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld