Yes, I know I’m mixing Spanish and Italian in the headline. Sorry! But I like alliteration.
After a long day of driving back from Virginia and working at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cinderella rehearsal I couldn’t face grocery shopping and cooking tonight. So I went to one of my trusty neighborhood standbys — Vivace, an Italian restaurant at North Hills.
It’s one of the establishments run by the Urban Food Group. I love Porter’s and Coquette, as well. I haven’t been to Frazier’s in its most recent iteration, but can’t wait to try it as Frazier’s #1 was one of my favorites.
I was delighted when I was first seated, because for once the dinner lighting was decent. In fact, one of the can lights overhead focused directly on my table top. But right after I placed by order and the bread and bean spread (always delicious, and a welcome change from olive oil, balsamic or butter) had been delivered, someone lowered the lights. It’s becoming a big problem in my quest to be a food blogger who delivers tantalizing photos!
My server, Robert, was very accommodating. He even brought over a big pillar candle in a glass bowl full of citrus fruit. But alas, it really didn’t help much. I’ve got to figure out this issue …
I ordered a glass of Chianti Rufina, which I liked very, very much. I learned afterward on the Internet that Rufina is a very small Chianti region just east of Florence. My glass was very nice. A little smoother than Chianti Classico, but still on the light and easy-to-drink side. I ordered it because it was the only Chianti on the menu, but now I’m glad for the discovery.
Having explained to Robert why I was taking photos, he soon brought over a treat from the chef. I was very excited — my first amuse bouche thanks to my blogger status! It was a taste of celeriac soup with jardiniere. Lovely. The soup itself was very light and a nice pale color, with just a whisper of celeriac flavor. The jardiniere — which is a garnish of finely chopped vegetables — was crunchy and a bit tart. The taste reminded me of chow chow.
I had another soup for my starter. Both Vivace’s and its French cousin Coquette’s soups are always wonderful. When perusing online menus earlier to decide where to eat, the description of the butternut squash soup grabbed my attention and refused to let go. This flavor is certainly not unique during the fall and winter, but Vivace promised a walnut-sage pesto, whose siren call I couldn’t resist. (I’m just wild about sage.)
The soup was a gorgeous color and very warming on such a bitterly cold night. The hint of sage in the deep green pesto was perfect. I don’t know if this is going to make any sense, but the texture of the soup was thick, yet airy. Often thick soups like this are heavy-feeling and quickly form a skin on top. Not this one. Topping it off were very nicely seasoned, small croutons made of hearty, chewy bread. Thank you, chef, for the manageable size of the croutons — they reminded me of the small boxed varieties you find in the grocery store (in size only, of course!) So many restaurants use large-ish, unwieldy croutons that are hard to eat.
My main was a half portion of crab and artichoke agnolotti with olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a white wine sauce. (Have I ever mentioned how greatly I appreciate restaurants that offer half portions? In my opinion, these comprise the ideal ration in American, the land of super-sizing. Not all of Vivace’s menu items are available in half portions, but several are.)
I expected only deliciousness at Vivace, and that’s what I got. The handmade agnolotti were delicate little rectangular pillows. The sauce was velvety and light, and the olives and sun-dried tomatoes were piquant and added nice color. My only complaint was that the olives and tomatoes were a little forward-tasting for the subtle artichoke and crab stuffing. In fact, the crab was barely discernible. After my first bite I ate the pasta separately from the rest.
I was sad to be so perfectly full, because Vivace has wonderful desserts. (I wish they’d bring back the little Italian donuts my daughter and I had when the restaurant was new — I haven’t seen them on the menu since.)
This might have been the first time I’ve eaten there on a Sunday night. It was very chill — far less noisy and crowded than usual. Even the music was lower key. And, as always, service was impeccable. Attentive but not overly so, and casually warm.
Vivace always pleases. Whether I’m with work colleagues, friends, family or dining solo, its comfortable, reasonably priced and yummy.
But guess what? Just as I was donning my coat at the end of a lovely repast, the couple at the table next to me was receiving the same celeriac soup amuse bouche. So much for my special food blogger privilege!