Italian competition

Photo By David Robert

The list of exceptional Italian restaurants in Reno is lengthy. La Strada, La Vecchia, Luciano’s, Viaggio, Romanza … I could go on and on.

That’s why I was stunned to see that none of these Reno Italian stalwarts won that other newspaper’s “best of” vote for best Italian restaurant. Instead, the Italian joint at Harrah’s Reno, Café Andreotti, took home the prize. Thus, we decided to check out Café Andreotti to see what all the acclaim was about.

My friend Steve and I visited Café Andreotti on a recent Thursday evening. A self-playing piano performed tunes (although a real, live pianist tickles the ivories on Friday and Saturday nights, our server told us) while the room got darker as the sun went down.

The décor at Café Andreotti seems bit conflicted. While fake, yet realistic ivy and painted patterns give the room a bit of an Italian feel, the red blinds along the Second Street side of the restaurant were half-open to give a view of the Club Cal Neva. No offense to the Club Cal Neva, but its exterior doesn’t mesh with most fine dining atmospheres. Nor does a huge sign near Café Andreotti’s entrance displaying the restaurant’s wine list. It’s a nice enough sign, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Our dining experience got off to a nice start when both the server and the busboy formally introduced themselves, with the busboy delivering bread with olive oil and vinegar. This set a pattern for wonderful service throughout the night. Because our server was so on the ball, we went with her suggested appetizer, the antipasto fruti di mare ($25). This appetizer built for two usually comes with slices of lobster, split king crab legs, prawns and oysters on a platter of ice, but the restaurant was out of oysters, so we had to settle for extra portions of everything else. The cold lobster was almost completely tasteless, and while the crab legs and prawns were good, we felt that we didn’t get enough to merit the $25 price tag.

For entrees, I chose my favorite Italian dish—ravioli di funghi, mushroom ravioli in a garlic cream sauce ($15). Steve decided on the cannelloni alla pier, chicken and vegetable crepes in a mushroom sauce ($12). Given the choice of soup or salad that came with our meal, we both chose the minestrone soup. The soup was unspectacular but tasty, with croutons, pasta and the usual array of vegetables.

We then settled into a nice conversation about politics and the economy, but it was a short conversation, as the main courses arrived fairly quickly. The timing was perfect.

I dove into my ravioli and found them to be rich and tasty; I’ve had better mushroom ravioli in this town, but these held their own. They weren’t too rich or too garlicky, although both Steve and I felt something was missing. However, there was nothing missing from Steve’s cannelloni. I stole several bites and found myself wishing I could steal a few more. The ground chicken and vegetable mousse was fantastic, perfectly complemented by the mushroom cream sauce. Delicious!

Our plates were cleaned. Because we were stuffed, we decided to just split one dessert and again went with our delightful server’s suggestion: the mascarpone phyllo Napoleon ($6). This delectable square featured flaky, sugary phyllo sandwiching a mixture of white chocolate mascarpone mousse, strawberries and kiwi. It was wonderful. We couldn’t finish it all; we were overwhelmed with culinary richness.

We left Café Andreotti satisfied, but not overwhelmingly impressed. The service was top-notch, and the food showed flashes of brilliance. But in the crowded Reno Italian restaurant scene, Café Andreotti has some tweaks and improvements to make before it will truly be one of the best of Reno.