You know what I like best about going to Italian restaurants? Their predictability. Vincenzo's on Chester Road in Sharonville is like that -- a solid Italian menu with all the usual suspects. Chef Vincenzo Mazzocca trained in Italy and honed his skills in New York, and it shows not only in the food but in the décor of his new digs.
In 1996, the Mazzoccas opened their place in an old filling station with only 14 tables and the restrooms outside. Recently they moved to a new location, and you can tell they're happy to be here.
The dining room is lovely with a little fountain and a balcony, detailed ceilings and an open airy feel, surprisingly similar to number of Italian places I frequented in NYC in the '80s. As you walk in there's an open kitchen where Andrea makes desserts -- fantastic desserts.
We were seated in a nice booth in the main room. The tables are glass covered and set with rollups and black napkins, elegant and practical. We order iced tea and a pop that comes in a bottle that remains on the table (a plastic bottle at that -- weird).
We ordered two fairly traditional Italian dishes: calamari and a tomato-and-mozzarella salad. The Calamari Fritti ($8.95) is lightly battered and served with a chunky marinara using just a little spice, not quite a diablo but close. It's not at all chewy and has a good mix of rings and those wonderful tentacle thingies I dig.
The Mozzarella Capricciosa ($8.95) is roma tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, served with crostini di muffalata, a crostini topped with a paste of ground olives. Using a balsamic vinaigrette, the crostini is a bit salty, and one of mine soaked up a bunch of vinegar, which made my eyes water. The mozzarella was brilliant; overall, it worked.
Our dinners were specials that night. I had the Misto di Mare ($19.95), a mixture of scallops, shrimp and salmon over angel hair (sorry, "spaghatini," but what's a few microns?) in a garlicky Aglio Olio. There were artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms along for the ride as well. It was good but a little too busy.
My mom had a perfect salmon and tri-colored ravioli dish ($18.95) prepared with a decadent sherry cream sauce. The salmon was moist, and the plate was beautiful. Both entrées were piping hot, which I know is difficult.
Before dinner we had salads, which come with most entrées. My Caesar was nice and crisp with a very authentic dressing, complete with a flat of anchovy. The dinner salad was plain with a wonderful parmesan peppercorn dressing and, again, crisp and cold.
We ordered Tiramisu and Panna Cotta (both $4.95). The tiramisu needed less marscapone and more lady fingers but was certainly good. The panna cotta, a member of the flan and crème brulée family, was probably the highlight of the evening. It had a little hint of chocolate, was firm and absolutely melted in your mouth, leaving not a grain of sugar, smooth as silk. My mother and I always try the custard dessert, and this was one of the best we've ever had. It's made by Andrea and is full of pride.
Proud. That's what best sums up Vincenzo's for me. A restaurant confident enough to go from 14 tables to a few dozen has to have proud people to make the change.
They've got it all -- mussels, clam sauce, sausages, meatballs, raviolis, veal, chicken, picatta. Everything a good Italian place should have, all served in a lusty Italian style, hot and proud. ©
Go: 11525 Chester Road, Sharonville
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Payment: All major cards accepted
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood and meatless pasta items are available
Accessibility: Wheelchair access and parking