- 6795 South Virginia St., Reno, NV, 89511
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
- Official Web Site:
Though its Reno location only opened six months ago (other locations are in SoCal and Mexico), Vivoli Café & Trattoria seems immediately familiar.
The restaurant's opening chef, Donato Partipilo, has helmed many Italian kitchens in town. The current chef is an alum of La Famiglia.
Several experienced Vivoli waiters have worked at spots like Sezmu, Bricks and the late Cortina Ristorante (which, I hear, will soon be a chain pub, as if we need any more of those).
But it's not just Vivoli's personnel that produce a sense of déja vu.
The dining room's combination of dark wood (including a brawny wine cabinet), metalwork fixtures and golden textured walls is meant to invoke a balmy, eternal Italy centered somewhere in Tuscany.
For at least 25 years, upscale Italian restaurants have often adopted this look, an antidote to red checks and raffia (and one, when light spills through Vivoli's enormous windows, exceedingly conducive to lingering lunches — with wine).
Vivoli's menu takes the same proven approach, offering a generalized take on Italian cooking mingled with Italian-American standards.
Sauce and cheese
Sometimes, the results are uneven.
Cannelloni are filled with veal ragoût that wants seasoning, especially given veal's inherent mildness. Lasagna Bolognese and involtini di melanzane (baked strata of eggplant and mozzarella) also need more seasoning.
And less — far less — sauce and cheese.
All three dishes are enrobed in the stuff, hindering the appreciation of nicely textured pasta and preventing other flavors from emerging. Who would have guessed the eggplant, once scraped clean, possessed a gentle smokiness?
(It's not for nothing Italians perpetually complain about Americans oversaucing their Italian food.)
That said, thought has clearly gone into plating: Cannelloni and lasagna arrive, bubbling, in charming ceramic crocks, with topknots of fresh basil.
Linguine with shrimp, another familiar favorite, almost never succeeds for me; the ingredients rarely cohere. Vivoli's version doesn't stint on the gamberi, thank goodness, but the snarl of linguine is too oily, though gusts of basil lighten matters.
But Vivoli redeems itself.
Warm, pillowy focaccia awaits dredging in pesto. Fried calamari — crisp-chewy tubes and tails -— appear with sidecars of wonderfully spicy marinara.
Penne all'arrabbiata is properly coated with sauce, not mugged by it, and spiked with spicy Italian sausage, little nuggets of heat. For once, this dish lives up to its name ("arrabbiata" means angry), and I don't have to reach for the crushed red pepper.
Bucatini all'Amatriciana, a fine old Italian standard, offers a rich, porky interplay that makes me wonder what the kitchen could do with guanciale, the deeply flavorful cured pig's jowl that's traditionally used in the dish instead of pancetta.
Chicken piccata — a dish often as exciting as lint — is unexpectedly lively and balanced, the lemon, capers, garlic and white wine working together to produce the requisite zing. Excessive lemon, typically the piccata party pooper, is kept in check.
Mushroom risotto is earthy creamy, snappy plump. Pizza crust is admirably thin (and could be thinner still). Fresh strawberries bring pork medallions into spring.
Is any of this unusual or unexpected? No, not really.
But then, Vivoli doesn't promise deep regional exploration (for that, go to La Strada or to the cooking classes at Arte Italia with visiting Italian chefs). What the restaurant does offer is a familiar vision of Italy, one reassuring to American palates.
Sometimes, the pacing of that vision is off, with courses taking too long to arrive, even when the restaurant isn't busy. Whatever the cause — kitchen, waiters, a groaning 100-item menu — without the problem, service would have been rated half a star higher at four stars.
I'm all for cicchetti or the forgotten dishes of coastal Apuglia. But as Vivoli Café at its best demonstrates, there's also honor in simple pizza, good pasta, satisfying risotto — even if they're old friends you've seen before.