Bianco's Italian Restaurant: Low-Key, Fabulous Food, and Sipping the Olive Oil Is Acceptable

Categories: First Taste
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Get This: Devil's Gulch Pork Shank, Kamut, Brussels Sprouts
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, 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: Italian Restaurant
Location: 4743 North 20th Street (Town and Country Shopping Center)
Open: Just over three weeks
Eats: Italian
Price point: $31-$60

​Last October, rumors were flying, then were confirmed, that legendary pizza master Chris Bianco was planning to open a trattoria in Central Phoenix. And on January 16, he did just that.

His much-buzzed-about new restaurant, called Italian Restaurant, is in Town and Country Shopping Center (Camelback Road and 20th Street), the same shopping center that, in 1994, was the original home of Pizzeria Bianco before it landed two years later at 623 East Adams Street in downtown's Heritage Square.

Featuring traditional Italian favorites as well as Italian-American creations on a small menu that changes daily and is fueled by top-notch ingredients, Bianco's got chef Claudio Urciuoli (the former Prado chef hired in 2010 by Bianco) at the helm, as well as Bianco's mother, Francesca, who occasionally lends a hand and makes the desserts.

Let's go in and have a bite, shall we?

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Italian Restaurant's bustling scene.
Italian Restaurant doesn't take reservations and because it's a Bianco restaurant, there's a good chance you may have to wait. Thankfully, my experience wasn't too bad, around 45 minutes, which I spent watching the bustling kitchen through a large, outdoor window (fun!) and partaking in a glass of pre-dinner wine on the restaurant's patio.

"Everything we serve here is as fresh as humanly possible."

This phrase, or something like it, will be uttered by your waiter as you're seated. And, upon each bite of your ensuing dish, or dishes, this fact will be verified by your taste buds. Breads, pasta, and cheeses are made in house, vegetables and fruits are purchased only when in season, seafood is caught wild, and top-notch meat is free-range and natural.

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Orange and fennel salad with Guaymas shrimp.
If you start with the fantastic house focaccia and premium olive oil from Pacific Sun, your server might suggest you take a sip of the brightly flavored oil from its small bowl, as you would a fine wine. Doing this will flush your cheeks and clear your palate for the next course. Highly recommended, but only with olive oil of this quality.

There is a fresh orange and fennel salad with perfectly cooked shrimp (with their heads still attached, I might add) from the shrimp-fishing port of Guaymas, in Sonora, Mexico. Pieces of large-leaf parsley offset the sweetness of the juicy orange slices, now in season, making for a lovely array of tastes and textures.

Despite nearly being driven mad by the smell of fresh basil from spaghetti dishes passing by my table, I stuck with my decision to order of the roasted pork shank from Devil's Gulch in Marin County, California. I was glad I did. One touch of the shank, roasted up to six hours, with my fork and it opened up like a meaty flower, tender beyond tender and touched with a sweetness that made bites of the accompanying Brussels sprouts and large, nutty pieces of kamut (considered by many to be the great-great-grandfather of grains) a comforting collection of tastes. I wished it would've lasted longer.

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3 comments
Jeff Moriarty
Jeff Moriarty

I've been struggling whether or not to recommend Italian Restaurant since I went last week. The food was fantastic, but the service was weak. The portions were small, but incredibly tasty. We enjoyed the decor and ambiance.

But when the check came, it just wasn't worth that much to us for the little food we had. I am NOT a fan of giant restaurant portions, but Italian Restaurant is on the other side of that curve and we didn't really feel full in spite of the price we paid.

Perhaps it is just for real foodies with a big dining budget. For us, if we want to dine in that price range again we'll go to FnB or somewhere else.

Jay
Jay

I completely agree with the service.  We thought the food at Italian Restaurant was excellent and we had no issues with the portion sizes, but the service was almost comically bad. 

Laura Hahnefeld
Laura Hahnefeld

Hey Jeff,
Thanks so much for sharing. On my visit, portion sizes were just the right size -- didn't leave me feeling stuffed or still hungry. Service was good as well with time taken to explain the concept and dishes. Perhaps things are improving or the gods of cuisine happened to smile upon me that night :-)

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