Friday, April 15, 2011

Eccezionale cucina tradizionale italiana

Piccolo's Italian Restaurant
5703 Evers Road
(between Loop 410 and Wurzbach)

The first time I went to Piccolo's, many years ago, I was impressed. It was the first Italian restaurant I'd been to in Texas that didn't use the same tomato-based sauce for every dish. Everything we had that night was excellent; everything I've had every time I've been has been well above average. If it wasn't for the fact that, to get there from my house, I have to get on two freeways and fight the outbound traffic (which, now that all that construction on 410 is finished, isn't as much of a big deal in fact as it is in my mind), this would be a regular haunt for me. Instead, with a number of Italian places, some pretty good, almost within walking distance, I seldom get out that way.

But when I do go, it's always good. It's not much to look at: it never has been, and over the years it's gone from comfortable to comfortably dilapidated. The place is small inside, and it seems like all the smaller tables are right by the kitchen door (they're not, it just seems that way), and the hard wall surfaces produce a bit of a din of conversation — though nothing like the cacaphony one finds at some of the trendier Southtown places — that sometimes crescendos to an unpleasant level. But the service is good, the staff are knowledgeable about the food on offer, and the prices for food and drink are reasonable. Plus they have exceptionally good food.

Tonight's choices were redfish Livornese, with a side of pasta with butter and garlic sauce, for the missus, and lasagna for me. We were immediately served fresh, hot garlic bread expertly made from small rolls, and they kept coming. (A blessing, and a curse....) Our wine choices arrived promptly (along with another basket of bread), as did our salads, which, I have to say, are the only part of the meal that was less than perfect. There's something about salads in Italian-American restaurants: it's almost like there is a cultural antipathy to them. The lettuce was machine-cut in strips like pappardelle, and dumped on a plate with a single thin wedge of tomato. The dressing, a creamy Italian, was tasty, but still the salad was a bore.

last city inspection: March 2011
7 demerits
The main dishes make up for that, though. The fish was flaky and tender, with a good flavour that penetrated the tomato-based sauce. It had a hint of hot pepper, just enough to give it character, not enough to distract or disrupt the experience. The butter-and-garlic sauce on the side pasta was light and subtle, providing both flavours clearly without the odious slathering of liquid dripping from the waving ends of pasta, such as one finds at certain popular national cosidetto-Italian chains. 

My lasagna was particularly good. Unlike at other places, lasagna at Piccolo's is a sort of oozy thing. That sounds weird and disgusting, I know, but trust me: it's damn good. Instead of sitting up on the plate like a Napoleon, it slumps down and spreads out until it fills the plate. It looks odd, but the taste — squisito! 
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