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Tuesday, September 18, 2007
La Vigna da Campania

"The Vineyard of Campania," that is, if my Italian is correct. (Warning: I have never learned Italian.)

Today American Fork's best Italian restaurant, Ottavio's, reopens as American Fork's even better Italian restaurant, La Vigna da Campania, or La Vigna for short. Now that I think about it, I believe it's American Fork's only full-fledged Italian restaurant; Tony's Italian Deli on Main Street is delightful, but is more of a cafe/deli, not a full restaurant. In any case, I was at La Vigna, nee Ottavio's, last evening for a "private function." MFCC and I, among others, were invited to sample the new restaurant's experience on the house.

I only went to Ottavio's once or twice in the past. I enjoyed it, to be sure, but I usually don't go to restaurants in that price range unless I'm on an expense account, which is only when I travel on business. The atmosphere of the new La Vigna is very pleasant and unmistakably Italian, as I remember from Ottavio's, except for the continuing shortage of Italian accents (which I'm afraid we just have to live with). The service is very good, as I also remember from Ottavio's, perhaps even a little better than before.

I don't have a photographic memory, but I liked the menu better last night than I remember liking Ottavio's menu previously -- not that it was bad before, just that it was a lot harder to decide what to order last night, in a positive sense. I don't think this was just a consequence of my dinner being free last night.

The menu turns out to be the pivotal thing: Reportedly, the partners who owned the small Ottavio's chain split, when one wanted to try some new things with the menu, and the other didn't -- hence the new restaurant under a new name, serving, among other things, dishes "from the Campania region."

For our appetizer we had bruschetta ("bruce ketta"), and such bruschetta I have never tasted. It was the expected tomato, basil, olive oil, etc., on a toasted slice of bread, to be sure, except the bread wasn't small, wasn't crisp, and wasn't toasted. For some reason the modestly grilled, large, succulent slice of Italian bread enhanced this favorite appetizer. The seasoning was just right and even, if I may say so, happily bold. One might make a very tasty, reasonably economical lunch of the appetizer alone.

I don't usually go for the green salad -- I usually prefer soup -- but did this time, with happy results. I recommend the citrus vinaigrette.

I had the "Tuscan ribeye" and MFCC had an excellent, enormous calzone. Well, she had half of one, I should say; the other half went home in a box, to the delight of offspring. I tasted it; it was excellent if not entirely to my personal taste (which I don't expect of others' orders). As for my steak, I very much enjoyed it. I ordered it medium well, as always, and -- brace yourself -- they served it medium well. The waiter even asked me to cut into it while he was there, to make sure the kitchen got it right. (I hadn't made any little speeches about them getting it right, in case you're wondering.) The mashed potatoes were tasty and probably very nearly as deadly as the Alfredo sauce on the spousal calzone, as one expects of mashed potatoes and of Alfredo sauce. The steamed vegetables were just right, not overdone.

Our only experience with the dessert menu was to decline to consider it, on the grounds that we had no room whatsoever for dessert. Nor can I comment on the wine list, except to observe that there is one, and the menu thinks it a very good one.

Next time -- perhaps with the bruschetta for an appetizer -- I may have to try the pizza margherita. I had a very happy experience with it once in Ithaca, New York, but have been disappointed two or three times elsewhere. I vaguely suspect that the kitchen responsible for last night's appetizer might do justice to this relatively subtle and delicate pizza. (Full disclosure: I like a Papa John's "Works," or for that matter a Little Caesar's large pepperoni, as much as the next guy. Pizza need not -- should not -- always be "subtle and delicate," to be sure.)

Our check would have come to $50, had we been paying, and we tipped somewhat generously on that basis. We amused ourselves by filling out the comment card, as requested, trying in the process to imagine what lofty phrases might actually find their way into La Vigna's advertising thereafter.

Maybe this one: "a pleasant, very satisfying dining experience."

"Are you sure this is American Fork?" didn't pass editorial review. American Fork is a much-improved place for eating out, these past few years, and I hear there are more excellent restaurants to come.

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