Everyone you know is an Italian food expert. Or at least they think they are. Each person has their own definition of what “true Italian food” is.
The fact is that Italy is a vast and varied land filled with multiple culinary influences that compose hugely different cuisine from Milan to Messina. But the definition of Italian food in the United States is pretty cut and dry. Marinara or alfredo. Stuffed pasta or gnocchi.
Those dishes have their place, but when you’re looking for a flavor profile you just can’t get from the Olive Garden, it’s time to branch out.
Marcellino Ristorante began as a small Phoenix restaurant in 2003 and made a splash on several Valley “best of” lists. The restaurant, owned by chef Marcellino Verzino and his wife, Sima, has since made the voyage to a more upscale location, eventually settling in a dimly lit, warmly decorated hideaway in Old Town Scottsdale. Verzino hails from a small town in Benevento, Italy, so expectations were high.
My guest and I were offered a chance to sample a multi-course food and wine pairing. It might not be the way the restaurant’s average guest will eat (though they do offer a wine and food pairing meal once a month), but this way we were able to get the full scope of what Marcellino has to offer.
The night we arrived, Marcellino himself was on vacation. But you would never be able to tell. There was no slacking to be seen. The boss was away, but the mice were hard at work.
First came a quick crostini topped with classic bruschetta. It was a fresh and subdued example of what was to come. Bread was served with a slightly sweet eggplant and tomato puree, which was a nice departure from the typical rock hard butter that’s impossible to spread.
Then it was time for antipasti. A watercress salad, dubbed “Insalata di Peri,” stayed true to its name, topped with sliced pears, pecorino cheese and lemon dressing alongside a special caprese with mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted pepper and basil, wrapped in prosciutto. Both were simplicity at their finest. Each ingredient to both antipasti dishes could be eaten on their own, but together they formed juicy, salty, sweet and fresh starters that were the ideal start to our meal.
At this point we were already rather full. Too bad. We had two more courses to go. Not that we were complaining.
Starters were followed by two starchy Italian classics—spinach ravioli and gnocchi. The pair could have easily made a meal of their own. The handmade ravioli had the unexpected twist of being stuffed with more spinach than ricotta—the total opposite of what you can expect with more Americanized versions of the classic. The gnocchi was fluid, not gritty, and topped with a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella that was fresh, slightly sweet and simplistic.
We had already eaten our fair share of food when the final course came—a trio of grilled lamb chop with balsamic reduction, filet mignon medallion and creamy mashed potatoes topped with asparagus. While the lamb chop was tasty and cooked to near-rare perfection, the filet mignon was the stand-out feature of this plate.
The steak was cooked a bit well for my taste (I typically opt for medium), but the complex wine reduction sauce it came in was among the best steak sauces I’ve ever had. Rich, sweet and subdued with the bitterness of wine, the sauce brought out the subtle fatty flavors of the steak. The filet was topped with the slightest amount of truffle oil, which is admittedly a divisive ingredient in the culinary world, but in this case, added to the flavor of the intricate sauce.
The meal was finished by Apple Galetta, a signature of Marcellino with flaky pastry, apple slices, hazelnut ice cream and caramel sauce. And although we were long past full, the presentation was impossible to resist and so was the blend of classic dessert flavors. We devoured it.
7114 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale
(480) 990-9500 or www.marcellinoristorante.com