Favorite

Worth the Wait 

Vivace moved to Campbell and Sunrise but stays a classic

If there is such a thing as

Little Italy in Tucson the crossroads of Campbell Avenue and Sunrise Road has to be it. On three of the four corners sit four different Italian restaurants each with their own personality and style.

On one corner there is North, a thoroughly modern venue with a noisy, hip vibe and an open kitchen where you can watch your pasta being made. Then there's Tavolino, also modern, but in a more refined, elegant manner. Behind Tavolino is Shlomo & Vito's, a faux Italian/Jewish deli that attracts a crowd. And then there's Vivace, a long-time Tucson favorite that harkens back to a time when dinner was an elegant affair complete with white linen table cloths and noise was kept to a minimum.

Now Vivace, run by the most capable Dan Scordato, has been around for more years than all the others combined and although it has been located in various spots around town, Vivace continues to serve wonderful plates that honor tradition and still do not seem out of date.

Lunch and dinner are two very different experiences though.

At lunch you'll find a mix of ladies who lunch, business people doing business and older couples who have the time for a leisurely lunch. The huge picture windows allow for stunning views of the Catalina Mountains. The menu is pared down and service is less polished.

Dinner on the other hand is slower, quieter and the southwest facing views show off the city lights and classic sunsets. Service is more elegant and the menu has several more items with decidedly larger portions.

Vivace is one of the few places in town where reservations are recommended for lunch (indeed, in order to get a prime time table at dinner, they recommend a two week notice.)

We skipped starters since our lunches came with a salad. Besides, the bread served with every meal is outstanding. Warm and crusty and served with a basil aioli for dipping, it's hard not to eat every slice before your entrees arrive.

Pasta is big here so we ordered the four cheese manicotti ($12.50) and the breaded pork tenderloin ($15.50).

The salad was served at the same time as the entrée, which I found a tad disconcerting. It felt rushed and clumsy. Presentation was also lacking.

There was only one manicotti on a small plate; no garnish, no extra sauce. The same can be said of the pork tenderloin.

Everything was tasty, though, making up for any lack of flair.

On the menu, the salad is described as small but the portion of fresh mixed greens was as big as some main salads other places. It was tossed in a light vinaigrette that let the fluffy greens shine.

The manicotti consisted of a light sheet of homemade pasta stuffed with a creamy mix of cheeses and covered with a tomato-mushroom sauce; classic and delicious.

The pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked with a crispy coating and tender meat. Topped off with melted Fontina, sauteed spinach and plenty of button mushrooms in a savory Marsala sauce this dish was most satisfying. I just wish there had been more of it.

We finished off with the house bread pudding ($7.50) which is made with croissants and apples and then drizzled with a Tuaca caramel sauce. The server split the dish for us to share and topped it with vanilla ice cream. The croissants made this dish light, but I prefer my bread pudding to be more substantial.

We called for dinner reservations for a middle of the week meal and found that the only openings were for 4:30 and 8:00. We opted for the early time and when we got there we were just about the only people in the place. The hostess recommended making reservations at least two weeks in advance; not a common occurrence in this town.

The wine list seems to have expanded a bit since the move to the Foothills. There are several by-the-glass options, a decent list of reasonably priced wines as well as many choices for deeper pockets. The server was able to answer my questions about the wine I eventually ordered. This is a good sign; this should be a common practice but often these days is rare.

There was more of that great bread and dipping sauce that paired nicely with the red wines we chose.

Our starter was the stuffed mushrooms ($11.95). These are a Scordato classic (for any newcomers, the Scordato family has been a shining star in the Tucson culinary scene for decades.) Five good sized shrooms had been filled with a light breadcrumb, shallot and parmesan mixture and then baked tender. They sat on a luscious lemon-garlic butter sauce that was ideal for dipping.

We opted for two more Scordato classics for entrees: the veal picatta ($28.95) and the seafood lasagnettte ($21.95). Portions were considerably larger at dinner.

The Scordatos were the first restaurant owners to use fresh veal in Tucson back when anything veal meant a frozen, breaded ground veal pattie. That attention to quality continues with this dish.

The thinly, sliced meat barely needed a knife and the piccata sauce was a perfect balance of lemon and garlic. Capers dressed the dish nicely. The dish was rich and buttery without being heavy and overdone. It came with fresh fettuccini in a light butter/parmesan sauce, the ideal accompaniment.

The lasagnette resembled the manicotti with tender sheets of pasta layered around tiny bites of mixed seafood and sauteed spinach. The rough chopped tomato-basil sauce was more like a broth and provided the perfect complement to the pasta in both texture and flavor.

Desserts were crème brulee ($7.50) and tirmisu ($6.95). Both were delightful and huge. The crème brulee was a perfect rendition of this ubiquitous plate and the tirmisu melted in the mouth. These were the only items we took home.

Vivace is a Tucson legend and with so many nearby competitors there could easily be tempted to change things to keep up with neighbors. But gladly, Vivace sticks with what made them famous – quality ingredients, well-trained, service and recipes that come from the heart.

We'll go back but will be sure to call well ahead to get a prime table at a prime time. By Rita Connelly

rconnelly@tucsonweekly.com

If there is such a thing as

Little Italy in Tucson the crossroads of Campbell Avenue and Sunrise Road has to be it. On three of the four corners sit four different Italian restaurants each with their own personality and style.

On one corner there is North, a thoroughly modern venue with a noisy, hip vibe and an open kitchen where you can watch your pasta being made. Then there's Tavolino, also modern, but in a more refined, elegant manner. Behind Tavolino is Shlomo & Vito's, a faux Italian/Jewish deli that attracts a crowd. And then there's Vivace, a long-time Tucson favorite that harkens back to a time when dinner was an elegant affair complete with white linen table cloths and noise was kept to a minimum.

Now Vivace, run by the most capable Dan Scordato, has been around for more years than all the others combined and although it has been located in various spots around town, Vivace continues to serve wonderful plates that honor tradition and still do not seem out of date.

Lunch and dinner are two very different experiences though.

At lunch you'll find a mix of ladies who lunch, business people doing business and older couples who have the time for a leisurely lunch. The huge picture windows allow for stunning views of the Catalina Mountains. The menu is pared down and service is less polished.

Dinner on the other hand is slower, quieter and the southwest facing views show off the city lights and classic sunsets. Service is more elegant and the menu has several more items with decidedly larger portions.

Vivace is one of the few places in town where reservations are recommended for lunch (indeed, in order to get a prime time table at dinner, they recommend a two week notice.)

We skipped starters since our lunches came with a salad. Besides, the bread served with every meal is outstanding. Warm and crusty and served with a basil aioli for dipping, it's hard not to eat every slice before your entrees arrive.

Pasta is big here so we ordered the four cheese manicotti ($12.50) and the breaded pork tenderloin ($15.50).

The salad was served at the same time as the entrée, which I found a tad disconcerting. It felt rushed and clumsy. Presentation was also lacking.

There was only one manicotti on a small plate; no garnish, no extra sauce. The same can be said of the pork tenderloin.

Everything was tasty, though, making up for any lack of flair.

On the menu, the salad is described as small but the portion of fresh mixed greens was as big as some main salads other places. It was tossed in a light vinaigrette that let the fluffy greens shine.

The manicotti consisted of a light sheet of homemade pasta stuffed with a creamy mix of cheeses and covered with a tomato-mushroom sauce; classic and delicious.

The pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked with a crispy coating and tender meat. Topped off with melted Fontina, sauteed spinach and plenty of button mushrooms in a savory Marsala sauce this dish was most satisfying. I just wish there had been more of it.

We finished off with the house bread pudding ($7.50) which is made with croissants and apples and then drizzled with a Tuaca caramel sauce. The server split the dish for us to share and topped it with vanilla ice cream. The croissants made this dish light, but I prefer my bread pudding to be more substantial.

We called for dinner reservations for a middle of the week meal and found that the only openings were for 4:30 and 8:00. We opted for the early time and when we got there we were just about the only people in the place. The hostess recommended making reservations at least two weeks in advance; not a common occurrence in this town.

The wine list seems to have expanded a bit since the move to the Foothills. There are several by-the-glass options, a decent list of reasonably priced wines as well as many choices for deeper pockets. The server was able to answer my questions about the wine I eventually ordered. This is a good sign; this should be a common practice but often these days is rare.

There was more of that great bread and dipping sauce that paired nicely with the red wines we chose.

Our starter was the stuffed mushrooms ($11.95). These are a Scordato classic (for any newcomers, the Scordato family has been a shining star in the Tucson culinary scene for decades.) Five good sized shrooms had been filled with a light breadcrumb, shallot and parmesan mixture and then baked tender. They sat on a luscious lemon-garlic butter sauce that was ideal for dipping.

We opted for two more Scordato classics for entrees: the veal picatta ($28.95) and the seafood lasagnettte ($21.95). Portions were considerably larger at dinner.

The Scordatos were the first restaurant owners to use fresh veal in Tucson back when anything veal meant a frozen, breaded ground veal pattie. That attention to quality continues with this dish.

The thinly, sliced meat barely needed a knife and the piccata sauce was a perfect balance of lemon and garlic. Capers dressed the dish nicely. The dish was rich and buttery without being heavy and overdone. It came with fresh fettuccini in a light butter/parmesan sauce, the ideal accompaniment.

The lasagnette resembled the manicotti with tender sheets of pasta layered around tiny bites of mixed seafood and sauteed spinach. The rough chopped tomato-basil sauce was more like a broth and provided the perfect complement to the pasta in both texture and flavor.

Desserts were crème brulee ($7.50) and tirmisu ($6.95). Both were delightful and huge. The crème brulee was a perfect rendition of this ubiquitous plate and the tirmisu melted in the mouth. These were the only items we took home.

Vivace is a Tucson legend and with so many nearby competitors there could easily be tempted to change things to keep up with neighbors. But gladly, Vivace sticks with what made them famous – quality ingredients, well-trained, service and recipes that come from the heart.

We'll go back but will be sure to call well ahead to get a prime table at a prime time.

Vivace

6440 N. Campbell Ave.

795-7221;

vivacetucson.com

Open: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Plusses: Fresh pastas; dedication to tradition

Minuses: Faux plants on the tabletops; small lunch portions

More by Rita Connelly

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