Sunday night at Zozo’s Ristorante is an elbow-to-elbow affair—reservations recommended.
The grilled polenta appetizer with sausage and pine nuts sounded pretty inviting, but they were fresh out. There are other interesting starters on the menu, but my Italian-American buddy took charge with an order of meatballs ($12). He could eat meatballs and pizza every day and die a happy man. Without much wait, we were presented with two tennis ball-sized spheres of flavorful, garlic-laden goodness, slathered in marinara and plenty of melted mozzarella. The dish is a standard for a reason, and this example was spot-on.
After such a quick start, the nearly hour-long wait for the next stage of our meal gave us plenty of time for conversation. Entrees are preceded by garlic bread and a choice of minestrone soup or a side salad, with the option to “upgrade” to Caesar salad for an additional $4. The garlic bread was classic, warm, nothing fancy and perfect. The broth of my companions' soup was hearty and rich, filled with plenty of veggies and a fair amount of stretchy cheese. My Caesar salad had crunchy greens, plenty of creamy, full-flavored dressing and plenty of shredded Parmesan. It was simple and satisfying, but I couldn't help wonder how pedestrian the standard salad must be for this to warrant an extra four bucks. We scarfed these items in short order, and then settled in for another wait on entrees.
My creature-of-habit friend would typically order lasagne, but threw a curveball and selected the lobster ravioli special ($23). The combination of fresh, sweet tomatoes in a white wine, cream and tarragon sauce amplified the large pasta pockets full of sweet, decadent shellfish. I really liked the ravioli themselves, but the overall effect was sweeter than I'd like. Surprisingly, my “red sauce on everything” friend was pretty pleased with his choice.
Trending against habit myself, I eschewed cheesy, pasta favorites for veal picatta ($23), thin cutlets pounded flat, breaded and pan-fried, in a lemon, white wine and cream sauce with capers. Here, the sweetness of the sauce was tempered by well-seasoned meat, with the briney-sour punch of capers elevating each bite. It was tender and fantastic. With sides of chunky garlic mashed potatoes and steamed garden veggies, it was a meeting of comfort food and haute cuisine.
An order of chicken marsala ($20) with mushrooms, cream and marsala wine sauce—atop fettuccine—clearly employed sweet rather than dry marsala. It was the sweetest example of this dish I've tasted. Hitting it with a bit of salt helped, and the poultry and pasta were well executed. An impressively large, filling dish, and if you like strikingly sweet entrees, this one's your huckleberry.
Three hours into our evening, we shared a crunchy cannoli ($7) with plenty of fragrant, spiced filling. It was surrounded by an abundance of shaved almond. I'm more a fan of the classic filling with just a hint of lemon, but this variation wasn't bad. Despite the amount of time invested, we left full and happy.