In the same shopping center as Five Guy’s and Mi Tierra, we have a third cuisine represented by Stefano’s. We’d been saying we needed to eat there since it opened (it was formerly Cio’s, which was short-lived enough that we never made it inside), and last saturday we finally gave it a try. Read the rest of this entry

Bertolini’s Authentic Trattoria

We had a free babysitter (thanks, Aunt Sara) and a prior engagement downtown, so we were going to make the most out of our evening out.

We arrived slightly after the dinner rush, but the dining room w s still bustling and the hostess never even officially greeted us before we were whisked to a crumb-covered table. Our waiter never offically greeted us, either, but rather haughtily waitied for us to place our drink order.

Like most restaurants these days, the portions were huge. I ordered the field greens salad and Chris went for the Ceasar, and we were presented with dinner plates heaping with leafy greens; it would have been enough for a (rather monotonous) meal, especially coupled with the loaf of bread the size of a basketball that was also brought to the table. The bread was topped with a glob of pesto the size of an ice cream scoop

Christopher chose the Fazzoletto, a glorified lasagna with lots of creamy cheese. It was tasty, but a little heavy. I ordered a special, grilled peppers with Italian sausage and grilled polenta. I could have used more polenta and a little less sausage (do we need two whole feet of sausage!), but it had just the right amout of heat and we had enough leftovers for another dinner.

Though the food was good, the ambience and the service was lacking. Were we expecting too much from a mall restaurant on a Saturday night? We were hoping to have a “special dinner” since the opportunity so rarely comes around anymore, and although we enjoyed the meal itself, the overall experience wasn’t really worth repeating again.

Amalfi Ristorante Italiano

Rumor has it that “Mama” works in the kitchen preparing many of the dishes and the fantastic sauce offered by Amalfi. Wow!

We were in the mood for something quiet and romantic, and we managed to snag an outdoor table for four on a Saturday evening. The weather was pleasant, our server (Ishamel) was very friendly, and while it’s rare that all four of us are totally satisfied, this time we were in total agreement. We wanted to bring Mama home with us.

Bread was a sort of rosemary flatbread (not quite as “nasty” as we would have preferred, but very tasty) and was served warm… a must. The house salads were served with a beautifully balanced viniagrette, and Chris ordered his Ceasar with (real) anchovies.

And then there was dinner. Jon loved his spinach ravioli (smothered in the sauce…have we mentioned the sauce?!). Christine’s gnocci were equally as pleasing. I had the fetuccini with red clam sauce (forgive me for not recalling the fancy Italian name), and though clams aren’t typically my most favorite seafood, it was the perfect combination of flavors. My sauce was slightly different from everyone elses, but just as good. Chris had the tortellini Michaelangelo (cheese tortellini with bacon, onions, and a light cream sauce) and it was so worth all the stolen bites I snitched.

Then we went for dessert. Christine enjoed the cheesecake, Jon tried the homemade tiramisu and a glass of Sambuca (which burned my nose from across the table). Chris and I split the ice cream dessert, and it was fabulous. To top off his evening, Chris also sampled the homemade Limoncello, and as he put it, “It was the same revelation I had when I first tried port: where has this drink been all my life? Why have I not tried this before?” I know I shouldn’t have, but I had the teeniest sip, and it was wonderful. It made the meal. I can’t wait to be able to have my own big girl glass!

In addition to the fabulous food, we made a new friend in Chef Mario. He came out to talk with us when we asked for dining suggestions for our trip to the Amalfi coast. Although it had been 14 years since he had last visited, he gave us some names and we promised we’d see if they’re still around. At the very least, we promised we’d come back after the trip (if not before) and give him an update, and he warned us that Naples is dangerous for tourists. We’ll stay away.

What a delightful evening! We’re going to certainly come back for another dinner, and if it’s as enjoayble as our first experience, plan to see four stars…

Update: You’ll notice that we’ve added that last half-star. Yes, it’s just that good. We love this place.

Trios de Tuscanos

The next time you’re up in Noblesville and you need some lunch, stop at Trios. The warm and rustic decor is welcoming, and you place your order at one corner and shop in the McNamara’s flower shop until your pager buzzes you back to pick up your food (I know, weird combination…restaurant and flower shop…but it works).

One charm was the wide array of dressings they had available. While most Italian restaurants opt for your standard parmesan and red pepper, Trios offered no less than ten hot sauces, three gourmet infused balsamics (pear, mandarin, and raspberry), several different olive oils, and at least a dozen flavors, such as Emeril’s essence and other shakable toppings.

I opted for a cup of the Italian Wedding Soup (warm and hearty, but nothing special). It came with the same kind of meatballs you’d find in Spaghettio’s, so they weren’t terribly fresh.

The roasted vegetable wrap fared much better, however. The veggies, although served cold, were still crisp. The spinach was fresh, and the creamy spread wasn’t too overwhelming. The balsamic glaze gave it a hint of sweetness. It might have been better served warm, though, as a future suggestion.

Chris’s meatball calzone was “ok” and he said he liked the outside better than the inside, meaning the bread was good. The marinara sauce was tangy and tasty. Both meals came with a little cup of some sort of apple-cherry crisp for the sweet tooth.

The menu also offers daily specials, and although neither of us opted for the pasta primavera tossed with fresh mushrooms and sliced bell peppers, it looked delicious and perhaps worth trying again at some point.

The atmosphere was cozy and just what we needed for a frigid winter evening when neither of us felt like lifting pot nor pan in the kitchen. Walking in to a warm environment, the rotisserie chicken smell filling our nostrils and the warm glow of an artificial fireplace beconing us to sit for a while was just what we needed. 

Though the menu doesn’t really offer anything out of the ordinary, the food is fresh and reasonably priced, the staff was friendly and the restaurant was clean. Plus, did I mention the flower shop is connected? You can eat and shop at the same time!

Buca di Beppo

Family-style Italian food is acceptable, but most people dine for the tacky, flashy atmosphere (big parties get to sit at the Pope table). The best part is that garlic only comes in one size: whole cloves. Bring Listerine.

Bottom line, there are much better choices for a big, fun Italian meal.


Pronounced “eye-REE-ahs.” Saying anything else will earn you funny looks. A noisy, bustling, busy old family-owned hole-in-the-wall filled with happy people. Killer eggplant parmesan (an indicator dish, if you ask us). Also serves pizza and lots of pasta.

Update 4/29/2005:
We visited Iaria’s again after a hankering for Italian hit, and it was so much better this time! The dining room was still noisy, but the food was much better than I remembered it.

The minestrone soup that is included with all entrees is fantastic and was just what we needed to warm up after coming in from a cold, crummy spring evening. My spinach ravioli and meatballs were excellent. The standard tomato sauce (the smooth kind, not the chunky marinara) must have, as Chris put it, “had some crack in the sauce, it’s just. that. good.”

Chris’s chicken marsala (the old standby) was also delicious…a little sweet, but not too sweet (I like it sweet, Chris likes it more savory). The mushrooms were meaty and hearty, so he seemed pretty happy. As much as he tried to only eat half and take some home, he failed and managed to finish.

Jon ended up in the Clean Plate Club after ordering eggplant parmesan (his old standby) and Christine enjoyed her mushroom ravioli and inappropriately large sausage.

Our waitress was friendly and attentive, even with a full dining room. We enjoyed the evening immensely and I’m looking forward to our next return trip.

The Old Spaghetti Factory

Lots of people like this place because it’s pretty cheap. I like the fancy purple lamps and the spumoni that comes with your meal, personally. Serving typical pasta dishes that can be mixed, matched, or topped with 18 pounds of cheese if desired.

As far as “authentic Italian experience” goes, however, this is clearly a midwestern favorite and has few ties, if any, to the mother country. The lines on the weekend are horrendous (and usually full of tourists and twangy nasal locals), so be prepared to wait.

Milano Inn

Family owned, tasty Italian. Across from Lilly, Milano Inn probably qualifies as an institution, since it’s been there forever.

Our dining experience was slightly altered, however, due to the fact tha the couple sitting behind us had chosen this family establishment as the venue for their publicly audible break-up. Our waitress was not the sweetest thing in the world, either, but perhaps she was picking up bad vibes from the break-up mcgees behind us.

The calamari was acceptable…nothing terribly noteworthy, and although neither of us can recall what we had for dinner (mine may have been pasta primavera, since that’s my style), we do remember the after-dinner drinks…Chris had some port, and Emily enjoyed her chocolate martini so much that we stopped at Kahn’s on the way home and bought the necessary potables to make our own.

Mama Carolla’s Old Italian Restaurant

A family-owned neighborhood favorite. Try riding past this place (located right at the Monon and 54th) around dinnertime…good luck. Everything is fresh, tasty, and romantic. A real Italian experience.

The waitstaff has always been friendly (apparently even more so if you’re a smarmy businessman and your waitress is a young pretty thing) and attentive. Ask to sit outside if you go in the summertime…the patio is beautiful.

The carbonara is excellent, and Chris really enjoyed his veal parmesan, even if Emily did give him a hard time about ordering veal.

A half bottle of wine makes for a relaxing and hilarious walk home if you live in the neighborhood, and although we;ve had better tiramisu, it’s always a delightful way to end a romantic Italian meal.

Bravo! Italian Kitchen

A great place to go on a Tuesday evening after a rough day at work, it’s sure to put a smile on your wife’s face (even before a fat glass of Gabbiano).

The salads are always tasty, although I wish they would use green leaf lettuce instead of iceberg. The chopped is our favorite, with bacon and little bits of tortillas (get dressing on the side, though, or it’s likely to drown). And the bread…ah, the bread. Rosemary and herbs dipped in zesty dipping sauce is a sure way to spoil your dinner, but it would be worth it.

As for entrees, there is nothing that isn’t superb. The chicken marsala is Chris’s new absolute favorite, having set the standard for chicken marsala everywhere. The Pasta Bravo (in a spicy, creamy tomato sauce) is excellent, as well as Penne Mediterranean is Emily’s favorite.
The chicken Milanese pomodoro was acceptable, but after the marsala, there’s just no competition. Emily has tried the margherita pizza before, and it’s OK, but the pasta and grill dishes are what make this place so special.

Make sure you save room for dessert and coffee. Something about their coffee is always wonderful, and the tiramisu is, quite possibly, some of the best in the city.

We know, we know. Bravo is a chain. In a city where chain restaurants all too often top the “best of” lists and shamefully beat out the unique, local joints, we’re comfortable saying that Bravo! is still one of our favorites. It would be great if they outlawed smoking on the patio in the summer, but otherwise we’re happy.

There’s nothing like a small, intimate Italian dinner in a dark corner of an old house that’s been in la familia for decades, but there’s also nothing like a big glass of wine on a Tuesday night in this festive northside restaurant where we know we won’t be disappointed.