[Sidebar] June 8 - 15, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Ristorante Pizzico

A winning way with Italian fare

by Ian Donnis

762 Hope St., Providence, 421-4114
Open Mon-Thurs, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat until 10:30 p.m.
Sun from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Set among a cluster of mom-and-pop shops on Hope Street, Ristorante Pizzico is occasionally mistaken for a pizzeria because of the similarity between its name and the favored legacy of the Neapolitans. Pizzico, in fact, means "a dash of," and there's far more than just a sprinkling of Italian influence at work here.

Beyond a small reception area, Pizzico is divided into two long and casually elegant rooms, one with a nifty four-seat bar in back, the other highlighted by a wall of exposed brick that has been painted off-white and bedecked with small, framed photos of Italian scenes. Combined with a tile floor, dark green ceiling, salmon-colored walls and a small house plant on each table, the feeling is relaxed with a touch of big-city panache.

Pizzico has established a faithful following since being opened nine years ago by Fabrizzio and Alison Ianucci, the former owners of Il Piccolo in Johnston, and the restaurant's extensive wine selection wins accolades from the Wine Spectator. In a quirky sign of whimsy, the tablecloths are covered with long sheets of white paper and there's a glass of crayons on each table.

Meals start with a small bowl of flavored olive oil and a basket of chewy focaccia squares and crusty slices of an Italian country white -- just the stuff to engage the appetite. A recorded collection of big band swing played in the background as a friend and I mulled the lengthy list of options -- 10 appetizers, four soups, nine salads, eight pastas, and 10 entrees -- for dinner on a recent evening. (For lunch, there's an abbreviated menu with most selections running from $7.95 to $12.95.)

For dinner, starters include roasted vegetable and white bean soup ($4.75), and Florentine suckling pig ham topped with cannelini beans marinated with sweet red onions, rosemary and olive oil ($9.95). We opted for roasted portobello mushroom served over thin slices of Parma ham and topped with roasted peppers ($8.95). It's an excellent combination -- the ham's slight saltiness made a winning foil for the roasted flavor of the peppers and the juiciness of two deftly cooked mushroom caps.

Of interest to larger parties, Pizzico offers six family-style appetizers and five entree salads. We chose one of the smaller salads, insalate Pugliese, ($8.75) which featured a generous amount of house-made mozzarella with Puglia artichokes, fire-roasted peppers, basil and artichoke olive oil. It was light and delicious.

The entrees, which come with pasta or fresh vegetables, run from angel hair with garlic, basil, chopped fresh tomatoes and olive oil ($11.95), to a grilled veal T-bone with shiitake mushrooms, pine nuts, and roasted peppers in a cognac sweet-and-spicy pepper mustard sauce ($23.95). It's not often that you find a roasted rack of wild boar ($21.50) on a menu, so I went with that, while my companion chose a Pizzico mainstay, filet of sole with a horseradish-pistachio crust, served with garlic, lemon and tomatoes in a white wine sauce ($15.95). Our selections were enhanced by Pizzico's wine-by-the glass selection, including the delectable Ruffino sangiovese ($6.50).

Both entrees were winners. The boar, served in a red wine reduction with cranberries and a side of apple puree, had a pleasant mild flavor, not at all gamy, and the dish puts a nice spin on the classic comfort food pairing of pork chops and apple sauce. The perfectly cooked sole melded into moist bites with the mellow, slightly crunchy horseradish-pistachio crust. Careful preparation was also evident in the side dishes, garlicky roasted green beans and carrots for my friend, and al dente fusilli in a pleasantly tangy marinara sauce for me.

Our waiter, a musician relocating to Austin, was the epitome of good service, proving affable, informative, present when we needed him and unobtrusive when we didn't. He made a compelling case for the tiramisu and other desserts, but we were too happily sated to have another bite.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.

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