Vivo! Ristorante

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2015
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The authentic Italian menu at Tomaso Maggiore’s new Scottsdale restaurant makes offers we can’t refuse.

Caprino bruschetta

When Valley legend Tomaso Maggiore teamed up with a pair of paisans from the old country to open Vivo! Ristorante in September, their goal was to create an authentic Italian experience. With an emphasis on quality ingredients imported from Italy, the trio has built an impressive menu of traditional Italian favorites and assembled a kitchen brigade with some serious cooking chops.

Fans of new-look Italian restaurants like Crudo and Virtù will not find comparable levels of experimentation in the appetizers, soups and salads, wood-fired pizzas and pasta dishes that grace the Vivo! menu, but they will find precision, expertise and authenticity – and an old-pro waitstaff to help navigate the extensive wine list.

White wine cioppino over linguine

Maggiore’s culinary legacy spans more than 35 years in the Valley. The iconic chef and restaurateur has opened 11 Arizona restaurants over the decades, including his namesake Tomaso’s in 1977. This time around, Maggiore has partnered with Elio and Salvo Menta, known in Italy for their exquisite extra virgin olive oil.

Located in the Scottsdale Marketplace, Maggiore’s new digs are a tad more Scottsdale chic than Tomaso’s in Phoenix, with a generous floor plan and exposed ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, an exhibition kitchen, a large U-shaped marble bar with a couple of flat-screen TVs and a spacious outdoor patio. Bathed in neutral tones, the stylish restaurant sports wooden tables and chairs and a couple of elevated booths where you can get a bird’s eye view of the scene, which ranges from singles hangout to family dining to couples enjoying a night out. Vivo! also bills itself as a marketplace and sells a collection of imported Italian products, including tomatoes, artichoke hearts, pasta and olive oil.

Eating light is surprisingly easy at the restaurant. The protein-packed bresaola carpaccio starter ($8), paper-thin slices of flavorful air-dried beef, topped with arugula, capers, a drizzle of lemon and bits of Italian cheese, is a nice, low-carb bite, and grazers wishing to steer clear of entrées altogether can hit the mozzarella bar and salumeria to sample a multitude of mozzarella, cured Italian meats and vegetables.  

While perusing the menu online, I spotted a bruschetta, the Caprino ($9), but discovered it wasn’t on the restaurant’s dinner menu. No problem. The kitchen was happy to whip up the divine combination of toasted Italian bread smeared with creamy goat cheese, topped with ripe figs and then drizzled with honey. This head-turning starter is pure pleasure down to the last crumb, and instantly qualifies as one of the Valley’s top “secret menu” pleasers.

The mozzarella tasting plate ($15) showcases a trio of bufala di Napoli, smoked mozzarella and burrata with fresh tomato and basil and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Each cheese was better than the next, but the burrata stood out with its sweet and creamy center. Bread would have been a nice accompaniment, but wasn’t offered.

On the salad side, the arugula, pear and walnut salad ($7.50) studded with candied walnuts and gorgonzola shavings, was light and fresh, as was the Tuscan kale ($7), a nice balance of greens, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and pecorino cheese dressed in balsamic vinaigrette. Both salads are big enough to split.

With so many pizza options in the Valley, you could easily bypass the pies here, but you’d be missing out. Choices range from the simple margherita ($13), with tomato, basil and bufala mozzarella to the more complex tonno e cipolle ($14), with tuna, tomatoes, onions and mozzarella. Another good choice is the prosciutto and fig pizza ($15). Made with imported Petra flour, San Marzano tomatoes and Fior di Latte mozzarella, the pizzas are cooked in a wood-fire oven, resulting in an authentic flame-kissed crust. Maggiore’s pies rate right up there with the other rock stars of Valley pizza.

As good as the pizza is, don’t overlook the pasta made in-house using the centuries-old “Delicate Method” of long and slow kneading and then drying at a low temperature to preserve its nutrients. Ravioli lovers will swoon over the ravioli trio ($24), two plump pillows each of spinach and cheese, filet mignon and butternut squash cuddled in a velvety butter sauce. Or if you’re craving seafood, give Maggiore’s signature black fettuccine with langostino lobster and sea scallops ($22) a shot. The menu also boasts vegetarian and gluten-free choices.

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Sea salt caramel gelato cake

The entrées, or “Vivo’s artwork,” as they’re referred to on the menu, really are masterpieces of Italian cuisine. The Verlasso salmon ($24), a pan-seared slab of king salmon accompanied by arugula and shaved fennel with Roman artichokes dressed in lemon and oil, was spot on, according to my dining companion who opined that restaurant salmon is frequently too rare or dried out.

On the fowl front, the pollo Milanese ($21) – a chicken breast pounded as thin as a pancake and encased in a crisp, golden Parmesan and herb crust –  was piled high with arugula peppered with tomatoes, cucumbers and slivers of onion dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. No need to order a salad with this entrée.

Another time, I tried the veal piccata ($25), three medallions of tender, melt-in-your mouth veal draped in a lush lemon and butter sauce, served with a roasted potato, spears of fresh asparagus and broccoli with browned, caramelized garlic. If lemon’s not your thing, the kitchen also serves the dish Marsala or Parmigiana style.

interior of Vivo! Ristorante

To finish off your meal, snag a piece of sea salt caramel gelato cake ($9), a wonderful combination of devil’s food cake topped with caramel gelato and sea salt; or the traditional tiramisu ($7), a layer of espresso-soaked ladyfingers topped with mascarpone cream and zabaglione and then dusted with cocoa powder.

Translated into English, Vivo! means “alive.” It’s a fitting name for Maggiore’s new venture, where he brings vibrant Italian cuisine to life through quality ingredients executed by a skilled staff in a stunning new space. Pardon the punctuation, but bravo!

DETAILS
Vivo! Ristorante
Cuisine: Italian
Contact: 6560 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-699-9081, vivoaz.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. M-Su; 4-6 p.m. daily happy hour
Highlights: Caprino bruschetta ($9); veal piccata ($25); prosciutto and fig pizza ($15); ravioli trio ($25); sea salt caramel gelato cake ($9)

 

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