I have driven by Villaggio many times, and have heard from friends and acquaintances just how great the food, ambiance and service are there. So, I decided to finally stop by the Italian restaurant to share an early Saturday evening meal with high expectations that were exceeded at some turns and, well, just not met at others.
Walking through the portal of Villaggio brought me into a warm and cozy rustically-decorated foyer where my companion and I were met by inviting smiles from the hostess and maître d’. It was a few minutes past 5 p.m., and the place had just a few patrons, so we were seated right away. When we sat down, I noticed it was rather dark at our table. Before I could complain, two wait staff members were already adjusting the track lighting above our table. We had no reservations, but judging by how quickly the room filled while we were there, I’d recommend them.
Eating Italian and healthy takes just a little effort, so my companion and I had perused the menu online at home so as not to make what we call “high-carb mistakes”. Villaggio’s varied menu offers a broad array of choices that allow one to avoid overloading on pasta or, depending on your age and activity level, gorge on a large plate of fettuccine or lasagna.
It was absolutely wonderful to have a professional waiter who was fittingly Italian. He never rushed us, nor did he abandon us to stare at empty plates. He smiled and laughed with us. Before our first course arrived, he delivered a bonus small plate of delicious marinated vegetables because, “Someone ordered these and we made too much.” He was a true expert — never lingering, but always there. In fact, an air of professionalism permeated the entire Tuscan dining room, all directed by the maître d. The staff was performing before us with smiles on all their faces. We were reminded of the service received on luxury cruise ships.
Our first course was originally to be salads, one arugula ($9) and the other Gorgonzola ($10), but before we could order, we saw a unique service of Caprese salad ($18 for 2) carried through the dining room. The tomatoes and mozzarella were stacked and sandwiched between each other. We jumped at it. The salad for two was overflowing — we could have easily split one. The mozzarella was fresh, and the dressing superb, but the tomatoes were hard and lacked flavor. I will take a shade of the blame for ordering tomatoes in October, but I’m thinking if you are offering this up just out of season, then you should use hot house tomatoes and charge me another buck.
We moved along to appetizers. Asparagus Rollatini ($11) stole the show. Spears of crisply-prepared baby asparagus were rolled inside a thin slice of prosciutto, laid in Romano sauce and topped with Fontina cheese. The cheeses were competing for the honor of complementing the prosciutto and asparagus, ultimately forming a harmonious, savory delight. Mozzarella in Carrozza ($10) are wedges of baked mozzarella served in light marinara with capers, and topped with Parmesan. They were cooler in the center than one might like, and a few too many capers overwhelmed a couple of bites. The well-seasoned marinara’s delicious tomato burst saved the dish.
For dinner, I ordered grilled lamb chops with broccoli rabe ($33). I love lamb chops, and a friend had raved about the broccoli rabe at Villaggio. The six chops came out medium rare as I had ordered, and were simply a savory treat. The broccoli rabe ewas abundant and as my friend had described. It was fresh and perfectly prepared to a soft crunch, and the tartness complemented the lamb.
Meanwhile, my companion was also raving about her green vegetable. Grilled Scallops and Shrimp over sautéed spinach ($23) included a delicious helping of spinach sautéed to tender delight. I’m thinking if you are getting $23 for three shrimp sized at 21-25 per pound, two scallops and spinach, you are carrying an onus to prepare them in an edible fashion. But the small shrimp, all three of them, were dry and overly salty and they tasted a little like scallop. The companion sea scallops suffered the same dry, salty fate, while tasting like over-cooked shrimp. I tried half a scallop and choked it down. My companion left a shrimp on her plate and implored me to eat it, so I could see just how bad it was. I put it in my mouth, bit down and then washed it down with water like an aspirin.
For dessert, we were presented with a small menu of wonderful choices from traditional Italian favorites like cannoli and tiramisu, to gelato with Limoncello liqueur and bomba — various berry gelatos covered in a hard chocolate shell. When he brought our coffee and cappuccino, we asked our wonderful waiter to recommend something refreshing, and he asked, “Do you like peanut butter?” When we replied in the affirmative, he snapped up our menus and quickly came back with a special peanut butter gelato bomba, all sliced on a plate. This “hidden menu” item was a light, airy, smooth creamy and decidedly decadent end to our meal, ($13) including coffees.
All in all, I especially enjoyed the personalized, superior service and atmosphere at Villaggio. Having experienced service levels that are flagging in some local restaurants, this experience was uplifting. I will give Villaggio another try soon, and hopefully report that what comes from the kitchen is as practiced as their floor staff, and that on this night, for one dish, an aberration occurred.
Dinner for two was $136 with tip. Villaggio is BYOB.
((The reviewer is unaffiliated with and receives no compensation from any restaurant reviewed. His views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Free Press.)