Italian Roundup

If you don’t like Italian food, you’re probably not an American. Whether it’s pizza or pasta, raviolis or rigatoni, Italian food is tops in most Americans’ food preferences. Italian food restaurants are in every city and every state, offering high carb goodness that can’t be beat. Beware, though, the Italian restaurant that fools you with inferior sauces and horrible, soggy pastas. A simple moustache and overweight accordion player will not make up for tough meat and lousy service. My favorite Italian joint, Bravo, recently closed its doors, leaving me in search of a new haunt. What I came up with is a few hits and a lot of misses:

WINNERS

Cafe Vinoteca- Sacramento, Corner of Watt and Fair Oaks
This is my new favorite Italian restaurant. Vinoteca scored high on quality of food, service and proximity to my apartment (a category in which it ranked 1st). The lasagna I ordered at my most recent visit turned out to be fantastic, while still being reasonably priced. The service was professional and attentive and the wine was superb. My beautiful companion went for a perfectly done fish dish which she raved about afterwards. I’m very happy that Vinoteca has undergone some changes recently because my previous visits had not been nearly as rewarding. The new owners, Jim & Janie Desmond Ison, have done a great job and truly, per their website, “facilitate an enjoyable dining experience for [their] guests by offering quality food, service and ambience.” Sounds like someone’s been reading their business management books again! Great job J&J. You are now my new favorite Italian joint in Sacramento and well priced.

Il Fornaio- Downtown Sacramento, Corner of Capitol and 4th
Coming in a close second is Il Fornaio. My first visit to Il Fornaio was only a few weeks ago, and I was dazzled by the high ceilings, boffo interior design, busy waitstaff and sophisticated clientele. It immediately struck me as the kind of place that you’d take your “clients” to, assuming that you had “clients” or that you knew how to tie a tie. Or, you could take your future father in law here to impress him when asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. (I never got to meet my father in law (RIP) but if I had taken him to Il Fornaio, I’m sure he would have appreciated the little fat man stenciled on all the servingwear. It just seems like the kind of thing he would have liked.) Anyway, the food is fantastic and the service gives you lots of space for conversation (nice way of saying that it’s a little slow). I loved the risotto I had, and Mrs. Eats greatly enjoyed her sea bass. Nothing beats the bread though. The bread basket is so addictive that you may want to order small portions of everything else. Il Fornaio, highly recommended and moderately high priced.

Paesano’s– Sacramento 1806 Capitol Ave
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Il Fornaio, Paesano’s is loud, brash, hip, dirt cheap, irreverent, rude to homeless people (but hey, who isn’t rude to homeless people?) and still damn tasty. For the super casual sit down meal you can’t beat the $8 plate of baked rigatoni at Paesano’s. The pizzas are great and the service is attentive and pierced. This is not a place to take future Dad, unless you want to make him uncomfortable and force him to stare at waitress cleavage all night long. I love this place, and love the price.

Biba– Sacramento 2801 Capitol
The old guard of Sacramento high-class Italian eating hasn’t changed much in the 20 someodd years that it’s been open. That’s not a bad thing. Biba has been serving up wonderful Italian with class and charm since she opened. The food is always exquisitely prepared and the service is always attentive. Make a reservation and bring your Visa card because dinner for two is usually $100 or more. Great for special occasions or for out of town guests. Great food, high prices.

Todo un Poco- Elk Grove, 9080 Laguna Main St # 1A
I love this place and would eat there all the time if it weren’t a 30+min drive to get there. They have the best putanesca I’ve ever had and serve this foccacia that could probably kill small animals in laboratory conditions. Yummy. For more click here.

MIDDLE OF THE PACK

Piatti- Sacramento, Pavilions center on Fair Oaks Blvd (also in Roseville)
We’re reaching the middle of the pack here. Despite having the best bread dipping sauce in the universe, Piatti always leaves me cold. Not really super Chicago in February cold, but October in a t-shirt kind of cold. The food always sounds better than it actually is, the service is always a little too busy for my needs (yes, I have needs), and the artwork looks like it came from some twentysomething’s apartment who just graduated from college and now has her first place to herself so she goes crazy at Pier 1 and Z Gallery and Ikea and buys those posters with the ads for Italian liqueurs with clowns on them and stuff…and that really ruins my eating experience right there.

Buca di Beppo– Sacramento, Corner of Howe and Hurley
I think that Buca gets a bad rap sometimes. I like the corny atmosphere and the hokey statues. It shows a certain joie de vive that the high class Italian places have lost. I’m a big fan of their chicken marsala, lemon chicken and chilled burgundy. The price is right for a big group and the food is pretty good and very filling. I really don’t see why this place doesn’t just bitch-slap Olive Garden out of existence.

Il Forno Classico– Gold River
Tasty eats at moderately high prices. I haven’t been there in years, but if memory serves, and word of mouth is true, all is well at IFC. Well worth the price if you’re in the Gold River area.

BOTTOM DWELLERS

Cafe Napoli– Carmichael, Corner of Fair Oaks and Walnut
Please, please, please don’t go here. I really don’t like this place. There is nothing good about marinara that tastes like canned aluminum shavings. There is nothing romantic about a storefront wedged between a liquor store and a taco bell. There is nothing on their menu worth paying for, especially at the prices they’re asking. Please, save yourself, and just eat at the Taco Bell next door.

Serritella’s– Carmiachael, corner of Fair Oaks and Palm
I really want to like Serritella’s. I do, but the soggy pasta and weird breadsticks with peanut butter on the side doesn’t do it for me. The parking is a nightmare, and the atmosphere smacks of a survivalist hunting lodge done up with Italian flair. Prices are low, but still not worth it.

Well, that’s it for now. Share your feedback, especially out in Roseville and other burbs that I haven’t had a chance to cover. Ciao!

15 thoughts on “Italian Roundup”

  1. sac-eats wrote: “If you don’t like Italian food, you’re probably not an American.”

    I’m as American as you can get (“We were here first!” “America, love it or give it back!”), but I prefer maize products over pasta.

    Vinoteca has an amazing steak sandwich on their lunch menu, and yes, Vinoteca is in the Entertainment book.

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  2. Il Fornaio is also great for married couples with kids who don’t get to go on dates very often. When you don’t eat out often, there is that eternal dilemma–Go where you know, or try something new and risk disappointment? Il Fornaio is just such a great looking place…I’m not saying there are not more romantic restaurants, but I definitely love the feel there.

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  3. I’m very sorry that I left Michaelangelo’s off the list. They’re on 18th and I and have the best fettucine alfredo in town. They also have a cool little patio with live jazz on some nights. Oh yeah, and it’s a great stop on your second Saturday walks.

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  4. Bravo! Bravo! Speaking as a fourth generation Italian-American, I have to say you nailed the Italian dining outlook.

    Check out Espanol, if you want another for your middle-to-bottom of the pack list.

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  5. 1) I have heard a lot of good things lately about Pasquale’s Italian Pizzeria (7609 Fair Oaks Blvd
    Carmichael). Any thoughts there? And while we are talking about that area, what the heck is that Cafe Capri place? Does anyone really go there for “dinner and dancing”? If so I would love to here about it.

    2) For those of us in the yuppie n/w, any thoughts on My Brother Vinnie’s in Folsom or Mama Ann’s in EDH (and soon to be in Folsom again)?

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  6. I ate at the Piatti in Roseville and I agree with the atmosphere comments, but I found the food exceptional.

    Michaelangelo’s is my favorite in this area so far. Masque in El Dorado hills is great also. Lucca is decent, too noisy for me though, and they were trying to turn the tables quickly.

    Sorry to hear about Espanol, that was one on my list.

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  7. Cafe Mulazzo on Folsom Blvd and 48th (near East Sac Hardware) is a tops in my book. Great food, environment, and they are extremely child friendly if you happen to have a few of those tagging along… Great choices.

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  8. Thanks FP. I forgot about Espanol. Low prices, big servings, zero flavor. I love the atmosphere though; it’s not too many places that serve their wine in plastic carafes anymore.

    Also, I totally forgot Spataro’s (15th st & L), but the jury is still out. Love the atmosphere, the prices are suprisingly reasonable, but so far the food has been hit and miss. My favorite dish so far is the chicken canaloni.

    Also, thanks mamaBryan, I’ll check out Mulazzo.

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  9. Suzannas (sp?) in River Park (on Carlson down from J). Good, fast, friendly, very reasonably priced, nice wines, superb food in the deli (a little small selection-wise) is a huge plus. A++ on the antipesto treats.

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  10. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but I was EXTREMELY surprised at the tiny little East Sac restaurant: La Trattoria Bohemia. It’s Czech-Italian, but being a vegetarian I had to do some ravioli and I was blown away. It tasted more home made than any italian restaurant I can say I’ve been to in Sacramento from the consistency of the pasta to the fresh tomatoes in the maranara. I have read that if you’re feeling more exotic their Czech menu is certainly worth a taste as well.

    Although their menu of Italian options isn’t huge, I found every bite was a joy.

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  11. Il Fornaio is a chain, expensive chain, but a chain none the less…

    Spataro’s looks like another Paragary joint about to bite the dust…and probably not because of the food…

    Paesano’s is cool, Lucca sometime has some great food and is fun, Piatti is basically Lucca before one of the dudes split…Piatti is also a chain…

    Mae at Columbus Cafe (before NY Times wrote her up and calamari went from $4.95 to 21.95 in 78), Little Joes (sometimes) the US Cafe, Fior d’Italia for calamari and the North Beach Restaurant (expensive)…some not in business any more….basically the reason one can get good Italian food here…but that has been the way since 1849…

    One can not beat Paragary for food…he puts some effort into it…must visit LA, SF and NY to pick up the latest stuff

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  12. david crokett: thanks for visiting, awesome comment.

    i think you brought up one of the situations where avoiding chains on principle is going too far. are you telling us you’d really avoid Il Fornaio because they serve the same recipes in another city somewhere?

    p.s. sac-eats: i too imagine a country where Buca di Beppo is Olive Garden. i’d vote for an arena in that country.

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  13. If you make it out to Rancho, or work out there, you should try Elegant Restaurant on Folsom Blvd., just east of the intersection of Routier Rd. and Folsom Blvd. Great Italian food and seafood for a reasonable price. At least as good as Espanol; I would say better. Been going there since it opened in 1999 as Ruffinos, then reopened as Elegant. Same chef, just minus a brother-in-law who was a partner- Ruffino.

    Menu and directions
    http://www.themenupage.com/elegant/

    Pasquale’s in Fair Oaks is also a great Italian place. Very popular (see busy), and very hard to find parking. Have to go out back, around the fish and chips place to get decent parking.

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  14. absolutely not,

    Il Fornaio has some of the best food on the planet…the best pasta I have ever eaten outside of Collegio in a University just outside of Milano has been in the Il Fornaio downtown in Seattle…

    Il Fornaio in SF used to be only a bakery and coffee joint on Sansome in the backside of the Levi Strauss complex on Sansome (now a Starbucks) and had the absolutely best morning pastry and coffee, it was the best, but then expanded to the failed restaurant on Battery where it should still be…all of the Il Fornaio’s are excellent…

    Lucca is basically Piatti for the guy who was Piatti or in cahoots with the other guys, is Lucca or owns it…I think it is excellent…forget about the Terminator…still is good…

    Because of the SF influence from the beginning, Sacramento has always been tied to the excellent food scene…all around there are excellent guys…

    why there is this “inferiority” complex in Sacramento is beyond me, but probably tied to the State Government…

    Paesano’s is a favorite, simply because it is unpretentious and there are plenty of tatoos on the rather young things…same with Paragary and Cafe Bernardo….and how can one beat the outdoor dining at Paragary’s…

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