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:
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.
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!