Review: North Italia

Cross-posted from Yelp.

Red-wine-glazed short rib (in two chunks) with heirloom carrots, Swiss chard, and creamy (somewhat runny) mascarpone polenta.

Julietta: vanilla & ginger infused Smirnoff, St. Germain, lime, prosecco. Eat the flower (karma orchids are edible) if you wanna be funny and freak your date out. Or maybe they'll be totally into it!

The short: Contemporary Italian fare (pasta, pizza, and various entrees) with prices to match; tasty but slightly pricey ten-dollar cocktails; service was fast and friendly; food came out quickly; ambience fit for an intimate, dress-nice date night, clean, well-lit, modern, and comfortable--think trendy barn and without the cruddy acoustic so many hip restaurants have these days.

The long: Located on a narrow lot on the east side of 40th St., just south of Camelback, tucked away a bit so it can be easy to miss, pull in and there will be free, fast, efficient, valet parking, and the valets aren't all scary if you don't tip because who walks around with dollars anymore? They get it, and they're great. As for the restaurant, like a Tardis, the place seems bigger on the inside than it does on the outside, so despite having lots of seats and a small parking lot, you don't necessarily feel cramped, though the servers have to be adept at maneuvering.

I made reservations (the site uses Open Table) just in case, which was super fast and easy, and met my friend for dinner. Service was quick and attentive without being obtrusive. It was a special dinner, so we went to town: shared zucca chips, arancini, I ordered short ribs, she had strozzapreti, and shared bombolini.

There's no graceful way to eat zucca chips. It's like the claw machine in arcades where you can fish around and try to win toys. They're too small and delicate to eat like regular chips unless you want to dainty your way through an hour of eating just that, so you just pick up a delicate ham-fistful, look up, open wide, and season your mouth. If you love fried zucchini, you might be disappointed--these are fried (and stay nice and crispy even as we continued snacking on them after our entrees), and they're zucchini (and taste like it), but they're barely substantial. They're tasty and salty, though, so at least worth a try. I liked the arancini better--moist, soft, fried rice balls? Yum. Take generous advantage of the marinara they're served on--that's where their flavor comes from.

My friend's strozzapreti (chicken, roasted mushroom, spinach, toasted pine nut, parmesan cream) was really good, cooked perfectly tender, tasty pasta and juicy chicken, and I tasted a lot of garlic mingling with the parmesan in the sauce even though the ingredient isn't featured in the dish's description. By a lot, I mean just right. I really liked my short rib, the meat itself being the highlight--soft, moist, flavorful--no complaints. I wanted polenta so I got I ordered the short rib as the main instead of with the pasta, but the polenta was a bit runny and added nothing to the dish; I couldn't get enough of a mouthful to find a flavor. I know polenta is often served soft, but if I think a spoon is a better eating utensil, then that's too soft. As usual, I was wishing for more veggies even though the carrots and onions were perfectly fine. I guess I think government-approved portions are the goal to aim for and I want half the plate to be produce.

Everything on the dessert menu looked enticing, but we split the bombolini, and I have nothing bad to say about fried dough that has a thin, crispy shell on the outside and is cooked all the way through. I think at one point, the restaurant filled the bombolini with custard, but now, they're just served on a bed of vanilla mascarpone custard sauce and Meyer lemon curd--a good counterbalance of soft and sweet and brightly puckery for summer.

I drank a Julietta, vanilla and ginger-infused Smirnoff, St. Germain, lime, and prosecco. It was such a well-rounded drink--I thoroughly enjoyed sipping it throughout dinner even though I easily could've chugged it down, it was so nice. The karma orchids they dress the drink with are edible, but I've never found them particularly tasty, so I let it just sit and be pretty in the empty glass.

4925 N. 40th St.
Phoenix, AZ  85018
(602) 324-5600

Mon  11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Tue   11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Wed  11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Thu   11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri     11:00 am - 11:00 pm
Sat    10:00 am - 11:00 pm
Sun   10:00 am - 10:00 pm


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