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Review: That's Italiano - Phoenix

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Review: That's Italiano - Phoenix

Seth Chadwick | Apr 25, 2006 01:09 AM

I miss the old Capri Restaurant.

In East Phoenix, many, many years ago, the southeast corner of 36th Street and Indian School Road was a hot spot of commerce and food. What is now an antiques place used to house the old Food-A-Rama market that was about the best place to buy groceries in town. It had a lunch counter that served the best Cherry Phosphates in the world.

Next to that was Pete Navy’s Barber Shop with grumpy old men dying to get a haircut and watching bowling on the television. Next to that was a huge office supply store and then the Arizona Bank. The smaller secondary mall was just as fantastic with a Mary Coyle Ice Cream Parlor and this tiny, decadent Italian restaurant called The Capri.

I never got to go to the Capri because it was the stuff of romance with Frank crooning on over the PA system and Chianti bottles covered with years of colored wax from dripping candles. It was sophisticated, dark, clubby, and not for the youngin’s. I remember my parents talking about how couples went there for fantastic Italian food and you could see the fashionable types of East Phoenix dressed up and entering the restaurant.

But that was many years ago. Mary Coyle’s is long gone from that location as is The Capri. What is in the space of those two old wonderful places is an Italian Restaurant named “That’s Italiano!” Anyone who drives down Indian School can’t help but notice the bold, burgundy exterior, the sidewalk tables and flowerboxes and the general buzz at the restaurant.

Never wishing to pass up an opportunity to enjoy our wonderful Phoenix weather, I decided to invite Madge and Boris along for the ride and the review. It so happens that Madge’s sister Gladys was in town and so we pretended that it was a double date of sorts (no need to get jealous, J.). We all piled into Gladys’ rental car and drove to the restaurant parking along the side.

I had made a reservation for 7:30 p.m., but there were plenty of tables available when we arrived. I asked to be seated on the patio and we were directed to a table. We took a seat and reviewed the menu. We gabbed about everything and waited a bit before our server arrived. Oddly, she seemed rather flustered and scatterbrained. I asked for water and it was as if a mild panic set in. She took our drink order (two iced teas and two sodas at $2.00 each) and disappeared.

Several minutes later, a bus staff member arrived with a small basket of bread and a plate of olive oil with a small mound of freshly grated Parmesan cheese off to the side. We each took a hunk of the bread and dabbed them with the oil and then the cheese. This was a great mix and a very nice twist on the normal olive oil with either balsamic vinegar or cracked pepper. We had raves for the mix. Too bad we had nothing to wash it down with.

Only after some eye contact from me did our drinks suddenly arrive. By this time we were ready to order. For an appetizer, we decided to share a small pizza. We ordered the Monte Bianco Pizza ($10.95). Salads and soups were ordered and it was apparent that our server needed a refresher course in phonics because she had no clue as to how to pronounce the name of the soup nor had she ever tried it and just said, “Well, its kind of a clear soup and really good.” Now there’s PR for you.

So, we ordered two Caesar salads ($3.50 each) and two bowls of the Pastina in Brodo Soup ($5.95 each). I also ordered a bottle of Chianti for the table ($28). We decided to wait for our pizza and soups and salads before placing our entree orders. Our glasses had run down to the bottom and our server was nowhere in sight. I finally caught the attention of the bus staff person and asked for refills. He was accommodating but had to get the server to get us fresh sodas.

The soup arrived first and Boris and Madge dug into the tomatoey broth with the spaghetti and basil. The bus staff had brought over freshly grated Parmesan cheese to top the soups. Boris and Madge both thought the soups were good. The broth was flavorful and rich and the soup was hot. The only criticism they had was for the size of the spaghetti, both commenting that it should have been in smaller pieces to accommodate eating the soup.

Gladys and I were very pleased with our Caesar salads. The Romaine lettuce pieces were crisp and green. The dressing was fresh, creamy and sported a nice dose of garlic. The croutons were good as well. The addition of cracked black pepper really made the salad shine.

Our server appeared again to tell us that our pizza was going to be out in a bit because it took a while to cook. Again, she seemed very frazzled by what was going on around her and it became distracting. However, it was not as distracting as the noise level that had grown to rock concert proportions. In front of us was the traffic from Indian School Road. Behind us was the very loud buzz from the restaurant coupled with the live piano player belting out Dean Martin hits at the top of his lungs. We could have handled the noise from one direction, but being between the two was deafening.

The next time our server came around, we ordered our entrees. Gladys and Madge went with the Chicken Parmesan ($15.95 each) while Boris had the Gnocchi Freschi ($12.95). I thought I would see how good their Chicken Salimbocca ($15.95) was. At this point, Boris also ordered a Cosmopolitan ($6.00).

The wine was delivered and I knew our server had very little skill in serving in a restaurant featuring wine. She struggled with the corkage but was finally successful in getting the cork removed. She then poured a full glass of wine and handed it to Madge and then started filling the other glasses before Madge had even tried it. Again, it all just seemed so scatterbrained on her behalf and frustrating on my behalf because someone – anyone! – at the table should have been given a chance to taste the wine before everyone was served. However, the wine was a clear wine and really good, so I guess our server gets points for that.

Our pizza arrived and we dove in. It was wonderful. The white pizza had a crusty bottom, a doughy middle and the cheese and oil combination on top was just a perfect antidote to the noise and the lacking service. The cheese mixture was truly stellar and the bits of basil scattered underneath were a very nice compliment to offset the cheese. We demolished the pizza in record time, singing its praises and talking about how the pizza was perfectly constructed and cooked.

Boris’ Cosmopolitan arrived and he said it was good. He offered a sip to all, but I was enjoying my Chianti and finishing the last of the pizza. Boris said it was slightly above average and a nice treat to have in the middle of the meal. We finally had a pattern going where we would get refills on our drinks from the bus staff, with nods to our server who would bring the sodas. If I had the power to promote the bus person to server, I would have done so in a heartbeat.

My Chicken Saltimbocca was the first to hit the table. On a large white plate, my entree was a small chicken breast that had been grilled and then covered with an olive oil and lemon juice reduction with prosciutto. This was accompanied by a side of pasta in Marinara sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. It was a rather small portion. The chicken was a bit rubbery and the proscuitto was like shoe leather because it had been cut thick. The sauce was pretty good, but the standout was the pasta in Marinana sauce. It’s sad when the accompanying side outshines the entree.

Boris’ Gnocchi arrived on a plate similar to mine and was a substantial serving of gnocchi in a creamy tomato sauce. Boris said the gnocchi were okay, but nothing that stood out from the crowd and said that he had had much better elsewhere. The sauce was good, he stated, but, again, nothing really outstanding. I thought for sure he was going to order another Cosmo, just to help drown the disappointment he was feeling about his entree.

Gladys and Madge were clearly disappointed with their Chicken Parmesan before they even got a taste. Their portion size was inexcusably meager. Their chicken breasts were small and topped with cheese and sauce. The pasta side was half the size of mine. They tried to make the best of it by putting up a brave front, but after their first bite, they were a little dumbfounded to discover the chicken was dry and tough. The problem was that the chicken breast had not been breaded to keep in the moisture, but was grilled and then covered with a bit of sauce, a slice of cheese and baked. For $15.95, this should have been much better than it was.

We finished our meals and chatted while we waited for our check, deciding to go somewhere else for dessert. Our server came by and tried to talk us into something for dessert, but we declined and begged for the check. Maybe dessert would have been good, but only if it was a clear dessert.

Our bill arrived and we paid the $142.45 bill which included tax. For what we received and the abysmal service, we were just a tad shy of calling this place a “rip off.” Only the salads, soups and pizza saved it from a complete waste of an evening. We left the restaurant heading for the car and wishing that a better Italian restaurant had taken the place of That’s Italiano. I then thought about how nice the Mary Coyle’s was that used to be there and how there once was a great Italian restaurant there.

I miss the old Capri Restaurant.

That’s Italiano
3717 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Business Casual
Notes: Avoid the patio if you dislike noise.

Link: http://www.feastinginphoenix.com

Image: http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

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