Gandy Boulevard abounds with dining opportunities, from a cute little spot for Middle Eastern, to a sushi restaurant to a full-blown steakhouse. In between, eateries offer dishes from almost all parts of the globe. One Italian restaurant you don't want to miss is Vino e Pasta.
Vino e Pasta, in a freestanding building on busy Gandy Boulevard, is not a ritzy joint. Inside, the warm, inviting décor resembles a quaint restaurant in Italy. Art depicting Italian scenes hangs on the walls, while the crooning of Italian singers bathes the dining room from overhead speakers. The space is small and intimate enough to allow conversations with friends, family or dates. And you can relax at a cozy bar at the end of the restaurant with an aperitivi or glass of wine.
The restaurant has white tablecloths and fine vino, but there's nothing stuffy about it. This place makes you feel special and welcome.
Three of us showed up on a busy Friday night with no reservations (someone forgot to make them), and the place was jumping, with no tables available. We were surprised when Luigi, who we later learned was the owner, introduced himself and asked us to wait a few minutes by the bar. We watched as he quickly grabbed a table from a large reservation and put it together for us. And when the guests arrived, they didn't even miss it.
Talk about service.
A few minutes after we were seated, our server arrived, and he was just as courteous and oh-so-friendly, with a ready smile and efficient service.
For a small place, menu selections are wide, with pasta, chicken, veal, seafood, steak and salad offerings.
If you like your meal with wine, Vino e Pasta has a nice selection of red and white wines by the pour and by the bottle.
We were barely seated when a complimentary order of bruschetta arrived that could compete against versions at many Italian restaurants. It was crisp, crunchy and had plump diced tomatoes and fresh basil.
Our waiter also brought out a basket of warm bread with a soft, spongy middle, perfect for sopping up pesto and olive oil, so we indulged, but lightly.
We finally began our dinner with a bowl of pasta fagioli. Rich with bean and tomato flavor and chock-full of ditalini pasta, it was a choice we didn't regret.
For an appetizer, our server recommended the Eggplant Rollatine. Two large slices of eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta and topped with a perfectly seasoned marinara sauce were delizioso.
But a seafood salad with garbanzo beans, corn and crab meat swimming in too much dressing was disappointing.
For dinner, we got things started with one of the evening's specials, Sopa de Mare. It was simply superb. It was loaded with clams and shrimp that were plump and tender, and bolstered with a flavorful white-wine garlic sauce served over linguini. It was so good that we were still singing its praises the next day.
Veal parmigiana is a staple on Italian restaurant menus, and the version served here is one we can recommend. Good-quality veal is used; the breading applied is thin and tasty; mozzarella and Parmesan top off the finished product.
We also enjoyed the chicken Marsala, a plump, juicy sautéed chicken breast topped with mushrooms and white wine Marsala sauce.
We returned for lunch and tried the chicken cannelloni and snapper in lobster sauce and also were impressed.
The cannelloni, Italian crepes, weren't crispy or overbaked. These were soft and wrapped around a savory filling of chicken puree with carrots, celery and ricotta cheese and topped with marinara sauce and more cheese. It could easily have been cheese overload, but it had just the right balance of flavors. The filet of snapper was tender and bathed in a rich and savory lobster cream sauce with baby scallops.
We weren't thinking about dessert, but we forced ourselves to share a couple. The tiramisu was fine, but it was the sauvignon cream that tantalized our taste buds. The light, sweet pudding was beautifully presented in a wine glass with fresh blueberries, bananas and strawberries that soaked up the flavor of the sauvignon. It was simply heaven on the taste buds.
Vino e Pasta
Bottom line: Fresh, authentic Italian food in a quiet respite on a busy thoroughfare
Where: 3603 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa
Hours: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday
Credit cards: All major
Children's menu: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: dinner, $13.95 to $26.95
Contact: (813) 902-8466