Restaurant Review: Piccolino Italian Restaurant
An OK day in the neighborhood
By: Bill Kohlhaase
Published online: Friday, September 28, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
What makes a good neighborhood restaurant?
Piccolino Italian Restaurant
2 Chiles chiles
2890 Agua Fría St. 505-471-1480
Lunch & dinner 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays; closed Sundays
Takeout available, Drive-up window, Noise level: moderate, Vegetarian options, Handicapped-accessible,
In short order: Piccolino Italian Restaurant
is a neighborhood restaurant without a
neighborhood. Find your favorites
among the classic red-sauce dishes, and
stick with them. Most dishes are decent, if
not exceptional, and considering the price,
you’ll get you dollar’s worth. But vegetables,
in their selection and their treatment, tend
to be a problem. Surprisingly, the veal is not.
The desserts are homemade, not fancy. The
service may not be as embracing as
at your real neighborhood restaurant, but
it is courteous and attentive — until it’s
time to leave. Recommended: calamari
fritti, Lasagna Boloco, veal Florentine,
combo pizza, and flan.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
friendliness, and familiarity; consistent, dependable preparations, the sort described as “home cooking”; and a location
that’s convenient to where you live — bonus points if you
can walk to it. Piccolino Italian Restaurant, on Agua Fría
Street near its intersection with Siler Road, meets all the
requirements except that last one. It’s a neighborhood
restaurant without a neighborhood. Housed in a former
Church’s Chicken outlet, it’s bordered by a Giant convenience market/filling station with a car wash on one side
and the Prescott Studio’s metal-sculpture menagerie caged
in chain-link on the other. Behind it is a big-rig truck garage.
Across the street are commercial spaces, not all of them
occupied. There’s a “there” there, but it’s not residential.
Piccolino also meets the criteria that distinguishes a
great neighborhood restaurant from a simply good one:
diners from other neighborhoods will travel to eat there.
That describes nearly everyone who goes to Piccolino.
But Piccolino, though frequently crowded with folks
digging into plates of pasta and pizzas, is not a great
restaurant. Its dishes, though consistently prepared and
satisfying, are rarely exceptional. Why is it so popular? My
belief, arrived at minus the aid of customer surveys, is that
it probably gives most of its diners what they want: abundant, reasonably priced, competently prepared portions of
classic Italian dishes, something akin to home cooking.
The comprehensive menu has some unique offerings
— things with tempting titles like Pasta Boloco, made
with chicken, green chile, red pepper flakes, butter, and
Parmesan. The baked Lasagna Boloco is thick and warm,
with green chile, a nice stringy blend of provolone and
mozzarella, and a rich Alfredo sauce. The shrimp and
scallops in the linguini Provençal have just a touch of
smoky flavor from the grill, are backed by tomatoes of
the bland grocery store sort, and are tossed with scallions
and just-past-al-dente pasta. With better tomatoes, this
dish might shine. Olga’s Favorite Pasta, too, suffers from
ho-hum tomatoes; all skin, not yet perfectly ripe, and with
less personality than your sister’s boyfriend. The grilled
eggplant that was tossed in seemed hardly grilled. It was
chewy and bitter, as eggplant that is not first salted and
pressed can be. A heaping dollop of goat cheese, stirred
into the sauce, saved this dish from being a complete loser.
Produce is a problem here — vegetables are not well chosen
or well prepared. The California pizza with goat cheese, sun-
dried tomatoes, and “fresh veggies” was a chewy challenge.
The vegetables, especially the carrots, were almost raw. Grill
those veggies, and this pie might please. Yet a combo pizza
of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and bell peppers was a
winner, with shards of pepper adding crunchy contrast. It
made me think: if Piccolino were located near my home, I’d
like to pull up to the takeout window (a holdover from its
fast-food days) and have a boxed pizza slid through.
So it goes, good and not so. The veal Florentine, topped
with spinach, was fine but not stellar, its brown sauce
hinting at Marsala. The linguini with clams — it doesn’t
get more classic than that — was satisfying, the pasta
floating in soothing broth, the clams flavorful, though a
bit tough from too much cooking. The calamari fritti was
perfect, lightly breaded, quickly fried, and toothsome the
way good calamari should be. The chopped Italian salad
stands as the perfect symbol for Piccolino’s food: a heap
of crisp lettuce blanketed in good but not-high-quality
chopped meats, olives, and cheeses, all smoothly coming
together in a pleasing whole. Another object lesson: the
fresh bread, served with a side of marinara, was warm and
flavorful with herbs and garlic at lunch but stiff and a bit
stale during a dinner visit. The sauce, made from good
canned tomatoes, was acidic and notably not so sweet.
Thank goodness it was there, though; a meatball sandwich,
with just a touch of sauce and cheese, was a bit dry and in
need of it. But those meatballs were as good as homemade.
Likewise the desserts, as if mom had made them herself.
Once you’re inside, you won’t recognize the site as a
former fast-food joint, and the place is well stocked with
servers who are spot on — until it’s time for the check.
Luckily, it’s cozy enough inside that you can call them over.
That meatball sandwich came with soup, and we were
brought the Tuscan-wedding variety with little meatballs
instead of the pasta fagiolo (with beans), which we wanted.
We shrugged and started in before our server came with the
correct soup. “I’m sorry,” she said. I wasn’t. Both were as
good as if we’d made them ourselves.
Write your review of Piccolino Italian Restaurant
You've read the Pasatiempo review. Now it's your turn to tell us what you thought of Piccolino Italian Restaurant. Keep your review concise, focus on the meal and the overall experience. Don't let your review become personal and always be respectful of the business and other users. Sfnmhome.com reserves the write to remove reviews.