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Tavolino Ristorante -- Tucson

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Tavolino Ristorante -- Tucson

Tohono Rat | Aug 9, 2009 03:24 PM

Tavolino is one of those "strip-mall surprises" that seem to have become ubiquitous over the past decade... restaurants that focus is on serving high quality food more than sexy locations and views. Despite its unpromising location next to a La Salsa franchise, Tavolino serves excellent, fresh Northern Italian food in an unpretentious atmosphere. In five meals at Tavolino dishes have ranged from very good to excellent.

I am a firm believer that if your ingredients are good, you don't need to mess with them very much, and the staff here seem to agree. One recent special appetizer featured an extremely fresh mozzarella cheese and prosciutto. The cheese was so melt-in-your-mouth wonderful that our party of five immediately ordered a second round, despite the fact that 3 other appetizers were already on the table (being thoroughly enjoyed).

Last night was our first experience with the new menu (unfortunately, not on their website yet). Many old favorites were still there, including Ravioli di Zucca, homemade butternut squash-filled pasta, brown butter, parmesan and sage. Although this is far from an innovative creation, it is always executed well at Tavolino. I was excited, however, by some of the new additions. I had a lovely salad that nicely balanced the sweetness of beets with and nicely acidic dressing and herbs. I did find the red onions in the salad a bit overpowering, however that is personal preference; I never enjoy raw onions.

The stunner of the evening, however, was my sea bass. Grilled whole with just sliced lemon, oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil (maybe some coriander too?), success of this dish relies almost entirely on the freshness of the ingredients and skill of the chef. In this case, both were excellent. I was presented with the lovely plate by our server who asked if I would like the kitchen to bone it for me. When I said that I could handle that myself, she smiled her approval. Served with rapini wrapped in prosciutto and grilled, the fish itself was perfectly cooked.... flakey and unctuous with the lemon and herbs complemented rather than hid the delicate flavors of the fish. It was wonderful.

Tavolino offers a nice selection of italian wines, many by the glass (although the prices are a bit high). Deserts are largely uninspired, but the Lavazza espresso is a nice touch.

We have had the same server for each of our meals there. She is friendly (but not obtrusive) and knowledgeable about the menu. On our second visit, we were welcomed as "regulars."

Tavolino is not anywhere near the quality of a Babbo (NYC) or even some of the "celebrity chef" places in Vegas. But it is consistently an excellent choice for Italian food in the desert.

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