On a recent Friday evening my wife, Kat, and I decided to venture out on the slippery, snowy Reno streets for our first classy-ish meal in some time. As we slid into the parking lot of Vivoli Café and Trattoria, I remember thinking two things: Why didn’t I buy new tires last summer when there were so many great sales? And I hope this meal is worth leaving the comfort of my living room.
At 7 p.m., the place was near empty. Had we arrived 15 minutes later, we would have ended up standing around the entry waiting for diners to finish their leisurely meals and make way for us. Renoites, I know this sounds strange, should consider making reservations.
Vivoli’s dining area is dimly lit and simply decorated with mirrors hung on the dark yellow walls and dark brown woods and upholstery as accents. The center of the room is packed with tables and, from our comfortable booth in the corner, everyone else looked a little cramped. Shortly after we took our seats, a gentleman brought us some warm tomato and herb foccacia with a side of pureed black olives and parsley. It was a fine start to a delightful meal, which only got better when a singer and pianist kicked off some relaxing jazz standards that Vivoli makes available on Friday evenings.
Vivoli opened in Reno about a month ago, but there are three other locations: one in Mexico and two in Southern California. So it makes sense that even in its infancy the service and food would be so well executed. Our server was a strange kind of great. To say he was confident not only in the food he served, but also in himself as a server would be an understatement. He recommended everything—the fish, the pasta, the pizzas, the meat dishes—it’s all amazing. His was the kind of sell you don’t really believe until the first bite hits your mouth, and you say, “This is pretty good.”
That evening I had a powerful craving for a Bloody Mary ($7) and a margherita pizza ($11.95), so that’s what commenced the meal. I told the server, “the spicier the better” on the drink, and for about the third time in my life the bartender took me seriously. The pizza was very simple: 12-inch thin crust and topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil. The crust was beautifully baked, removed from the oven right before crispy becomes burnt. However, I thought the pizza was topped with too much cheese, which made it a little oilier than ideal.
For an entree, Kat picked the gnudi Toscana ($13.95): fresh spinach and ricotta dumplings in a butter, sage and parmesan sauce. While the extensive offerings of traditional chicken, seafood and meat plates looked inviting, I was in the mood for comfort food. So I ordered the penne alla Bolognese Gratinate ($14.95): baked penne topped with a meat sauce and mozzarella. Kat’s dumplings were similar to gnocchi, and their consistency was just right, not the least bit chewy. I absolutely relished my dish. I’ve had baked penne that leaves the oven dry, but such was not the case at Vivoli. The meat sauce was salty and rich, and the entire thing was covered liberally with mozzarella.
In true decadent style, we ended with the tiramisu ($6.95), which was a portion made for three. When the owner held the door for us to leave, it felt so cold that I almost turned around to find out what other tricks that bartender had up his sleeve. But I decided that wouldn’t be much fun for my pregnant wife, and besides, we’ll be able to have nice meals like this again in a few years.