Editors' pick

Villa Mozart

$$$$ ($25-$34)

Editorial Review

2011 Spring Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chef-owner Andrea Pace hails from northern Italy, a detail suggested by the speck (juniper-flavored prosciutto) garnishing his cantaloupe salad and a "hometown" ravioli that relies on rye rather than wheat for its flavor. The dark wrapper filled with fresh spinach and mountain cheese, drizzled with a butter sauce and finished with minced chives and lashings of Parmesan, is immensely appealing.

That Alpine-style pasta is one of many reasons you owe yourself a meal here. Slender herbed breadsticks and a gratis snack from Pace - delicate spinach cornets piped with a whip of ricotta one night - turn even a weeknight dinner into a special occasion, while the rose gracing each table top and the opera playing discreetly in the background add dashes of romance, even if you and your mate had bills and the kids to discuss on the agenda.

Bills and kids can wait. Calamari as prepared by a protege of the acclaimed Andreas Hellrigl - the late maestro of the original Villa Mozart in Merano, Italy - should not. Pace turns the marinated seafood into white ribbons, which he sautes and arranges on coins of soft polenta that look just like scallops. There are peas for color, olives and tomatoes for sass and tang, and a canopy of a crouton for crispness. The appetizer is both beautiful and delicious.

No matter how simple the idea, the kitchen dresses it up: Notice the salad coaxed into a tepee and outfitted with a tiny mushroom tart? It's a challenge to find faults. One of the few problems I have with this restaurant is that there are too many choices on the standing menu (lobster risotto, rack of wild boar), as well as specials that are hard to pass up. A recent catch, steelhead trout, netted me sweetly fresh fish splashed with red wine and flanked by a soft potato cake and baked baby eggplant. Dessert? Sorbets prove sludgy, but the upended apple strudel with velvety sour cream ice cream would be at home in a Viennese cafe. If money is an object, consider the three-course, $39 menu. Offered Monday through Thursday, the deal allows diners to pick from most of the menu, currently one of the best Italian reads around.