After last Friday night's disappointment with our excursion to Franco's for an Italian meal, Madge and I were determined to try again. I was still in the Italian comfort food syndrome and was craving a nice big meal with lots of superb Italian food.
One place that I had never been, but I had heard talked about, was L'Amore, located in a small strip mall at the corner of 32nd Street and Lincoln Drive in Phoenix. You can't miss the strip mall since it is the only mall around for quite some distance. For those of you who have been in the Valley for a while, it is the same mall that once housed Mother Tucker's.
I called to make reservations and was told that an 8 PM reservation would be available for two and submitted my name. After loading up the car and heading up to dinner, I have to say that I was surprised at how full the parking lot was. In the things I have heard about L'Amore, most have been in the range of "it holds its own" or "the food is decent." These comments do not give me much hope for an outstanding meal, but it wouldn't stop me from finding out on my own what the food is like.
We were a bit early for our reservation and the place was packed. We were told we would have wait a bit and would be seated closer to 8 PM. The interior is a nice mix of cherrywood furnishings around the bar and then a dining room with a wonderful brushed burnt orange painting job on the walls with Renaissance prints. In the center of the dining room hangs a very nice chandelier. While we waited, Madge and I talked about our work days and in the bar, there was live entertainment provided by a solo artist with keyboard, guitar and taped background music.
At about 8 PM we were informed that a table was ready in the bar area or we could wait about five minutes for a table in the dining room. We preferred to wait and minutes later, we were seated at a comfortable table in the dining room. A basket of warm, fresh bread was brought to our table and we dove into the bread, dipping it into the olive oil and balsamic vinegar that sat in little bottles on the table. I have to say that L'Amore had some really outstanding balsamic vinegar, if you are into that.
We reviewed the menu and L'Amore has a great selection. Lots of pasta, seafood, and specials. The menu is quite complex and anyone can find something to enjoy. After a bit of discussion, Madge and I wanted to try the Bruschetta L'Amore ($4.95) so we each ordered a serving. This would be followed by Caesar Salad ($4.95) and then our entrees. Madge had a hard time deciding, but went with the Gnocchi di Patate ($12.95) and I made a beeline for the Chicken Parmesan ($16.95). To round out our meals, I selected a glass of the Melini Chianti ($6.75) and I talked Madge into having a glasss of champagne ($5.25) with her meal. We also ordered a couple of soft drinks.
As we sat and chatted while eating bread, we noticed that the noise level was fairly high. It wasn't oppressive, but we did have to raise our voices to hear each other. We polished off the bread in time four our Bruschetta. It was gorgeous. Each plate contained four good-sized ovals of toasted baguette brushed with garlic, topped with a huge portion of chopped tomatoes and fresh basil and then drizzled with olive oil. The tomatoes were bright red and very good. This was a substantial service and I think Madge and I could have been completely satisfied sharing an order. My only complaint with the dish was the amount of tomatoes. The amount on each piece of bread was a bit overwhelming and I think did more to harm the taste then help it. If a tablespoon less had been given on each round, I think it would have been perfect. Still, it was very good bruschetta.
Next up were the Caesar salads. This was a typical preparation, but the standouts were the buttery croutons and the fact that the restaurant didn't skimp on the dressing. The Romaine leaves were coated well with the dressing and the salad was a success. They also didn't skimp on the croutons, which is always a good thing.
Our entrees arrived in short order and I was pleased to see the portions. There was plenty to eat and a little to share as well. My plate was a large oval platter that was searing hot. The Chicken Parmesan was a nice breast meat cutlet covered in a wonderful tomato sauce and topped with a generous slab of mozzarella cheese. A small serving of bowtie pasta with a different tomato sauce and sauteed mixed vegetables accompanied my meal.
The chicken was superb. The cutlet was still crunchy and the mix of flavors from the sauce and cheese just made this a treat. The pasta and veggies were also very good. What I found a nice touch was that it had all been served on a plate that had been keep hot (not just warm). The meal was piping hot from the first bite to the last.
Madge was thoroughly enjoying her gnocchi. The little potato pasta dumplings were served in a creamy Alfredo sauce in a huge, shallow bowl. Again, the portion size was quite generous. There weren't just a few gnocchi in the bowl; there were a lot of gnocchi in the bowl. Madge described the gnocchi as "smooth and perfectly cooked." She also raved about the sauce. I was lucky enough to get to try the gnocchi and they were excellent. I knew it was a hit for Madge when she requested more bread and sopped up every last drop of the sauce.
Madge also raved about her champagne which she stated was a perfect pairing with the gnocchi. My chianti was also a great match with my chicken. It had a great flavor, with lots of fruit and a nice aftertaste that lingered for a few moments. It also was not overly bitter, which chiantis can be from time to time.
We finished our meals and were asked about dessert. We declined. We weren't stuffed and could have easily handled dessert, but we were both satisfied and full.
Our bill was presented and the total, including tax, was $70.91. We thought this was a good value considering the meal we had. The bill could have easily been $15 less if we didn't have wine and shared an appetizer. But, we were pleased with the total.
Service at L'Amore was stellar. The manager/owner was omnipresent and would circle the dining room from time to time checking in on his guests. Our server was doing a great job, considering she was handling several tables including a party of 12. The standout, however, was the bus staff. They were efficient and always made sure we didn't lack anything from our drinks to clearing the plates.
As we paid the bill, our server came over and apologized that she wasn't "as attentive as I would like to have been." I thought she did just fine, but it was clear that she was on overdrive covering all of her tables (one of the other servers had called in sick).
We left the restaurant and talked about how pleased we were with our meals. We couldn't have asked for a better way to start the weekend.
So, my Italian comfort food fix has been satisfied for now. L'Amore did a great job all the way around and I will return.
But next time, Madge needs to be more open to sharing her gnocchi.
3159 East Lincoln Drive
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Business casual