Considering the nostalgia-laden nature of Italian culture, it feels appropriate to honor Paravicini's Italian Bistro's recent 10-year anniversary with a brief look back.
Shortly after the outfit opened in spring 2003, a then-Indy food reviewer wrote, "Nothing would please me more than to have a neighborhood bistro on the West Side in a space small and inviting, staffed with responsive, attentive folks serving a menu of simple yet impeccably prepared dishes."
Then, that writer went on to list grievances not uncommon to a newbie that showed Paravicini's was not yet that place, ripe with potential though struggling to find its feet. By a return visit two years later, a subsequent critic declared, "Paravicini's has become a quintessentially neighborhood joint, with diners enjoying sound, straightforward cuisine."
It would seem the mission was basically accomplished, especially when Paravicini's popularity begat La Zingara in Palmer Lake in 2007. (That ran until late 2010, when business partners Ted Sexton and chef Franco Pisani opted to sell due to split-focus exhaustion.) By then, Paravicini's was already well into its run as Indy readers' top Italian eatery, one that today stands at eight years strong.
But despite the success, the owners and a longtime kitchen and service staff have never stopped tinkering, seasonally adjusting menus and acting on customer feedback. Most recently, the restaurant has added a gluten-free menu that's ushered in polenta and risotto substitutes as well as locally made, GF pasta.
"If you cut me, I'll bleed marinara," Pisani joked with us a couple years ago, and that dedication shows on the menu today — starting with an uncommonly satisfying spaghetti and meatball plate ($8) of two dense, zesty baseballs over a tomato-sauced tangle.
The eggplant rollatini ($9.50 as an appetizer, $8 over penne pasta at lunch) also makes a great ambassador for hearty excellence: thin, crispy breaded, rolled slabs oozing with semisweet ricotta, Romano, mozzarella and Parmesan under chunky tomato sauce. As do the Mussels Posillipo ($9.95), with garlic and red pepper flakes gifting defining spice to a lovely herb-white-wine broth.
The Burrata special ($10) is superb, with a cream-filled mozzarella ball (bought from BelGioioso) garnished with crushed black pepper and served with fine olives, wonderful, salty prosciutto and grilled bread rounds. It's an initial shot of richness that you can build upon beautifully with bay scallops ($15.95), their buttery nature blending seamlessly with pesto cream over pine-nut-flecked linguini.
And all that, of course, should be followed by the gelatinized creamy mandarin orange vanilla panna cotta dessert ($5) with toasted almond slivers and a lemon sauce drizzle pairing perfectly with a decent, Everclear-based house Limoncello ($5.50) and quality, foamy Barista Espresso cappuccino ($3.50).
"They do cream well," summarized my guest, slumping back into a booth seat, looking ebulliently overcome by post-richness lethargy.
Sure, some minor service points, like more attentive pre-bussing (our earlier plates were left through dessert) and table-crumbing could use reinforcement to match Paravicini's fine dining atmosphere. But when that's about all for missteps, and the food and drink stand nearly flawless, it's pretty safe to say that Paravicini's 10 years later has become what we'd all hoped it would.