Chef Franco Pisani has an evident love affair with neighborhood eateries and is doing a bustling business in his pursuit of such a place on the West side of Colorado Springs. While the tourist- and tchotchke-clogged strip of Old Colorado City is a far cry from Little Italy, Pisani and co-owner Ted Sexton are doing a bang-up job of turning Paravicini's into a comfortable little community respite.
Located in the same building that once housed the Blue Star and Old City, the dcor at Paravicini's is elegantly simple. Framed, Italian-themed kitsch occupies dark red walls, and an open kitchen supplies welcome, clattering ambience. With a sprawling menu of Tuscan and southern Italian fare, Paravicini's offers the typical spaghetti and meatballs, fettucine alfredo and the like, along with more obscure and creative dishes. I'm about as Italian as, say, Prince, so I can't speak to the food's authenticity, but I do recognize vast portions of comfort food, and these Pisani offers in spades.
We started off our first visit with the Antipasto di Casa ($9.95) and the Calamari Fritti Arribiatta ($7.95). The antipasto was good, if a bit unexciting. The deli-sliced capicolla, salami, provolone and mozzarella over iceberg lettuce with marinated vegetables wasn't the dish of bird-sized artisanal meats we were expecting, but it did the job. The calamari was far more ambitious. Breaded and fried, then sauted with hot cherry peppers, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, it was a spicy, colorful dish without a trace of rubbery texture.
Subsequent visits found us trying the Shrimp Paravicini ($8.95), a handful of sauted shrimp served over toast in a bath of tomato basil cream, which my dinner date loved. (My childhood phobia of soggy bread prevented me from digging in with gusto.) The Mozzarella en Carozza ($6.95), another appetizer, is an admittedly one-song meal in itself. Three huge mounds of breaded and fried cheese over Alfredo and marinara sauces, it's a decadent and artery-clogging thrill, an Italian take on the state-fair cheese curds I grew up with.
After serviceable red wine-vinegar house salads (which diners can upgrade to an anchovy-redolent Caesar for $2), we tried the Veal Toscano ($14.95), scallopini sauted in roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, drizzled with a roasted garlic cream. After the salty appetizers, this dish didn't hold enough garlic to stand up, though it was much more balanced the next day after a reheating for lunch. Still, the ponderous amount of sun-dried tomatoes detracted from the delicacy of the veal. The Tutto di Mare ($16.95), a combination of shrimp, calamari, mussels and adorably wee clams, was better. Served in a garlic and white wine sauce, it had a surprising punch of spice, and the seafood was agreeable and well prepared, if not transcendent.
The Gnocchi Bolognese ($10.95), pillowy potato pasta in a slightly sweet red sauce with spicy Italian sausage, ground beef and veal, was also estimable. Though I anticipated a more rustic Bolognese, the smooth style of the sauce certainly worked for the dish. Our best entree by far, however, was the New York Strip Capricosa ($14.95), a considerable slab of meat topped with mozzarella, prosciutto, sauted mushrooms and onions, served with a pungently nuanced jus. A stabbing nearly occurred in deciding who'd get to finish this offering.
On our lunchtime visit we tried the meatball sandwich ($6.95), a massive affair of delectably accented homemade meatballs with a sweet red sauce and melty mozzarella, done up on a huge crusty loaf. The Pannini Paravicini ($7.95) was similarly gigantic but less moving. This oven-toasted turkey, salami, capicolla and cheese sandwich was slightly cold in the middle, and it could have benefited from some sort of sauce or tapenade, or maybe a vegetable -- carnivorousness be damned.
For the record, Paravicini's has the best tiramisu I've savored since the late, great Pasta di Solazzi. The phrase "creamy goodness" comes to mind, along with whatever is Italian for "orgasmic." Softly flavored with espresso, it was a genuine delight and even better with a taste of the house-made orangecello. On a later visit, we tried the cannoli, which was less subtle, the much sweeter ricotta merely reminiscent of the tiramisu's heavenly moscarpone.
Paravicini's offers a small, inexpensive, mostly Italian wine list. No $80 Super Tuscans here, but some surprises are mixed in with the requisite Chiantis. We tried a blockbuster Primitivo on our first visit and a lighter-style Valpolicella on our next, both for less than $30 a bottle.
Pisani and his crew seem to have accomplished what they set out to do. Paravicini's has become a quintessentially neighborhood joint, with diners enjoying sound, straightforward cuisine in a casual atmosphere. The service is uniformly competent, charming and folksy. Servers eagerly offer recommendations and Italian exhortations to a dining room of area folks just out for a meal.
-- Aaron Retka
Paravicini's Italian Bistro
2802 W. Colorado Ave.