Piazza Italia, in the heart of the Pearl District, makes great strides toward authenticity in an Italian-saturated environment.
I visited Piazza on a Thursday night, and the restaurant was buzzing with diners. The moment I walked in the door I was warmly greeted by an older Italian man. Soon after, I was ushered to a table and presented with bread, olive oil, vinegar and a carafe of red wine.
Our waiter, Daniel, (pronounced “Daniella”), was very good. Overall, the service that night was efficient and friendly. Daniel made numerous trips to the table, sometimes singing along to the Italian music in the background, asking us questions in Italian and other times shouting orders like, “More Bread!” to his coworkers while encouraging us to “Drink!” as he refilled our glasses with wine. (Nearly everyone who works here speaks Italian.)
At points, the older gentleman who greeted us at the door could be seen dancing with patrons, adding to the general feeling that we were in an Italian home rather than a restaurant.
The insalate menu was complete with standard Italian fares, Insalate Mista, Caprese, and the like. We ordered the Caprese and I found the tomatoes fresh and the mozzarella nice, although it could have used more basil. One sprig just isn’t enough for a whole salad!
The food, while tasty, was a bit too salty for my taste. Daniel offered a number of specials that seemed simple but good: a pesto pasta, a halibut pasta, and ravioli. I ordered the Linguine Squarciarella with prosciutto, onions, parmesan and egg. It was tasty. And, although salty, this hearty portion of pasta left little to be desired.
My friend ordered a spaghetti bolognese. This spicy meat sauce was simple and delicious. All in all, the pasta dishes are solid, but it seems Piazza Italia is more concerned with the experience rather than the actual dishes.
The dessert menu was lacking in its creativity and selection. Rather than design their own desserts in-house, Piazza has opted to import classic desserts from Italy. Ordering from the Bindi Company, their desserts were too sweet and stale-tasting.
I must admit, though, Piazza does have my favorite dessert of all time: cannoli. Unfortunately, Piazza is one of the only places in town where I can enjoy this dessert comprised of ricotta cheese, sugar and vanilla encased in a crisp pastry shell. That night, Piazza’s cannoli were OK, but the shells were a bit stale. They must have purchased them from far away instead of baking them fresh. Oh well, at least the ricotta mixture was good.
Overall the atmosphere is a lot of fun. The singing waiters, Italian accents and hearty food make for a good time. I wouldn’t classify Piazza as a romantic restaurant in the traditional sense. Rather, it provides an experience of Italy that is rare in this town and, for that, it should be admired.