Italian-born chefs who ply their time-honored trade in America are known to be rigid in their conviction to serve Italian cuisine that is as authentic as possible.
That’s a good thing.
Why change how things have been done by generations of cooks? There’s plenty of that newfangled Italian fare in this country, anyway. You know what I’m talking about: The never-ending this and the never-ending that. Why dumb it down?
Vincenzo Nicoletta, who was born in the Amalfi Coast region of Southern Italy, adheres to this unyielding belief.
Nicoletta recently moved to Idaho after spending the last 20 years operating Vincenzo Ristorante in Santa Monica, Calif. Looking for the less-hectic vibe of a smaller city, he found the Boise area to be just right for opening a casual Italian eatery that dishes up simple, real-deal Italian fare, sans all the catchy marketing phrases.
He recently debuted the dinner-only Vincenzo Trattoria in the former Jades Chopstick spot in the Northgate Shopping Center.
With its faux partial brick walls and profusion of retro-looking Italian poster art, the no-frills decor probably won’t remind folks of that sidewalk trattoria they visited in Naples. But the ingredient-driven cuisine here certainly will evoke memories of Italy.
The menu descriptions are mostly in Italian. No worries, though. The friendly wait staff does a commendable job of explaining what everything means to those who don’t know the difference between fusilli and orecchiette.
Appetizers (hot and cold antipasti, if you will) stay the traditional course. Ordering the calamaretti alla Luciana ($12.95) will get you a bowl of sautéed, tender squid rings and curly body parts adorned with slices of grilled bread (crostini) for soaking up the garlicky, parsley-flecked tomato sauce, infused with oceanic flavors from the calamari.
Scampi Mediterranei ($14.95) is another way of saying shrimp scampi. Six large shrimp, showing their tails, get sautéed in a lemony butter-wine sauce with lots of garlic. The shrimps (slightly overcooked one evening) come with a basket of oven-seared pizza dough wedges for dragging through the zesty pan sauce.
The insalata di Rugola ($10.95) is a heap of baby arugula simply tossed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, garnished with tomato wedges. It’s a fresh-tasting salad, but some shaved stinky cheese (Pecorino Romano, perhaps?) on top would surely make it better and well worth the price.
Pasta, which is made fresh daily at the restaurant, dictates the larger plate section of the menu.
Lasagna Verde ($18.95) borrows its verdant moniker from the silky sheets of house-made spinach pasta that get layered with meaty Bolognese, nutmeg-perfumed béchamel sauce, fresh basil leaves and gooey mozzarella, smothered with an aromatic tomato cream sauce. This lasagna is full-on comfort food.
Rigatoni alla Siciliana ($15.95) pays homage to the island of Sicily, a region known for its plump tomatoes and other hot-weather nightshades. Slightly curved tubes of al dente pasta soak up the garlicky tomato sauce, pocked with chewy nuggets of eggplant and chopped parsley, dusted with finely shredded smoked mozzarella.
Another simple yet delicious pasta dish is the spaghetti alla Carbonara ($17.95), a tangle of spindly pasta mingled with salty pieces of pancetta, Parmesan cheese, Italian parsley and a raw egg that gets folded in at the end. The magic happens when the bacon flavors meld with the beaten egg, making for a fragrant, thick sauce that clings tightly to the spaghetti.
Vincenzo Trattoria keeps a rotating-deck pizza oven out front, which pumps out various blistered pies. Some of these pizzas might seem unusual to diners around these parts, unless they’ve spent time recently in Naples.
For instance, the racchetta pizza ($13.95) is shaped like a small racket (actually, more like a ping pong paddle). One night, the yeasty dough was good and chewy, topped with a tenuous smear of bright tomato sauce, sliced bell pepper, fennel sausage and molten globs of fresh mozzarella. The stuffed and pinched-closed handle oozed a creamy mixture of ricotta, Parmesan and herbs.
The trattoria also dishes up folded pizzas, known as panuozzo in Italy. These pies are essentially large calzones that get folded and not crimped around the edges. A solid pick for kids is the folded pizza stuffed with rich ricotta cheese, Parmesan and fresh mozzarella ($12.95/Bianca).
I’m still kicking myself for not trying the layered tiramisu and other house-made desserts. Maybe next time.
Statesman reviewers attempt to dine anonymously and pay for their meals. Email James Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 6970 W. State St., Boise
Phone: (208) 853-6292
Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers and salads $7.95-$14.95; pasta dishes and pizzas $9.95-$18.95
Libation situation: The mostly Italian wine list doesn’t have many wines by the glass, but the bottle prices on table wines are affordable. Plus, you can get a few Idaho wines (from Split Rail Winery and Koenig Vineyards) and bottled Italian beers and American craft brews.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: March 2017