B y R e b e c c a C o o k
GAVI'S IS THE kind of restaurant that thrives on word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers. Indeed, it must depend upon such accolades to survive because, for many of us, strip-mall dining is not how we generally choose to satisfy our more noble culinary cravings.
Rest assured, however, if you can get past the fact that Gavi's is wedged between Magpie's Gourmet Pizza shop and TJ Cinnamons Bakery on the northwest corner of Broadway and Pantano, you're well on your way to a delicious dining experience.
Although Gavi's may not be the best-known Italian restaurant in Tucson, a recent Friday-night visit there revealed it has a large and dedicated clientele. At 7:30 p.m. the place was packed, several people were trying to find someplace to wait in line without getting in the way of the bustling staff, and the hostess--who was also waiting tables--was telling customers there would be about a 40-minute wait to be seated.
Our thoughts of leaving for another restaurant were immediately dispelled, however, when the first plate of steaming, fragrant pasta passed by. The wait, only 25 minutes as it turned out, was more than compensated for by a meal that was a pleasure from start to finish.
Once we were seated, the waitress immediately brought us a basket of hot, crusty rolls fresh from the oven. They were the perfect accompaniment to her other welcoming treat--a plate of cold, marinated bowtie pasta and pepper strips. The pasta was lightly seasoned with olive oil, vinegar and Italian herbs; the red and green bell peppers marinated in a slightly more piquant blend. Delicious.
Co-owners Gavi Colaleo and Tony Tanzarella offer a complete and diverse menu. Here you can find all the traditional pastas--spaghetti, fettuccine, mostacciola, ravioli, tortellini and manicotti--combined with various meats, vegetables and spices, as well as a wide assortment of veal, seafood, chicken and pork dishes. Daily specials are also available.
For those who must dine with really short people, Gavi's thoughtfully offers an impressive children's menu which includes main course, salad, bread and soft drink for $4.95.
After changing our minds several times, we decided on the manicotti and pork fiorentina. Once the order was in, the plates we saw going out to other diners immediately made us question our choices. The eggplant parmigiana looked heavenly, and the bowl of mussels and clams served over pasta made us long for San Francisco.
We needn't have fretted.The generous portion of manicotti ($8.50) was a marvel of perfect timing and balanced flavors. The large pasta tubes, amply stuffed with a savory blend of ricotta cheese and spices, were done just right, neither too tough nor too mushy--the requisite al dente that eludes many of us poor schmucks who prepare pasta at home.
The sauce the manicotti was baked in was redolent of fresh tomatoes and a combination of herbs and spices that blended in harmony, no one ingredient overpowering the others to ambush the palate. All this had been topped with mozzarella and baked to a golden brown, although the cheese was still soft enough to give easily with every forkful.
The pork fiorentina ($11.95) consisted of tender, flavorful slices of sauteed tenderloin topped with spinach, a wine-based gravy and asiago cheese, a slightly pungent, salty cow's milk cheese that gave this rich dish a pleasing kick.
Portions at Gavi's are substantial and, in addition to the above-mentioned appetizer, meals include a salad as well as a pasta side dish for those ordering non-pasta entrees. The salads, which hold no unexpected surprises, are nevertheless tasty combinations of green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and cucumbers. The house dressing is a slightly sweet and creamy Italian with just a hint of mustard.
Desserts are a basic food group in my book, and so we tried Gavi's house specialty, tiramisu ($4.25). My dinner companion, who'd never tasted this heavenly stuff before, found the confection of lady fingers, espresso, mascarpone cheese, brandy, chocolate, coffee liqueur and whipped cream exquisite. I, on the other hand, found Gavi's version of this venal sin overly sweet and too heavy with chocolate, which tended to knock out the other flavors.
No matter. Gavi's proved to be an unexpected delight. The service was incredibly attentive and well-timed, a small miracle considering how busy the place was--all this despite the fact, our waitress confessed, they were a body short that night.
You might miss this little gem of Tucson's Italian restaurant scene if you rely on location and decor in making your dining choices, so I'm passing the word along: Gavi's is great.
Gavi's. 7865 E. Broadway, No. 165. 290-8380 or 290-8230. Reservations accepted only for parties of six or more.
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