Friday night is a hopping time on the East Side, so the competitive spirit among restaurants gets turned way up. Ristorante Pizzico has been a reliable Hope Street choice for many years, and it now has a Friday “happy hour” that allows one free appetizer per guest from a choice of eight items, including stuffies with chourico; pizza margherita; bruschetta; and fried calamari, eggplant, or olives (each served with a tasty marinara sauce).
Landing at Pizzico with Midwestern guests, we felt they should experience the signature Rhode Island dish of fried calamari. We succumbed to the special preparation that evening, in which the squid rings were tossed with blue cheese and fresh spinach ($12.95), and Bill was compelled to check out the fried olives ($5.95). Large green Sicilian-style olives with a slight batter on them, they were unusual but good, especially with the delicious marinara sauce. Bill was not fond of the blue cheese-calamari combo, but the rest of us liked the sharp kick of the cheese against the mild seafood.
We next turned our attention to entrées and pastas, guiding Dianne and Doug through the cappellini, pappardelle, and strozzapretti (all forms of pasta with various sauces). Dianne liked the sound of the salmon special, nut-crusted and served with goat cheese and mushrooms, atop fresh spinach ($19.95), and Doug chose the veal scallopine with mushrooms ($20.95). Dianne was particularly taken with the contrast of textures and flavors, and Doug liked the thin veal slices that had been lightly breaded and sautéed with wild mushrooms and finished with a brandy cream sauce.
Bill and I hewed closer to the regular menu, with the horseradish-pistachio crusted sole ($18.95) calling to him, and the ravioli di zucca ($16.95) to me. The ravioli were described as sage pasta stuffed with pumpkin in a pesto cream sauce with fresh tomatoes. I couldn’t taste the sage, but the pumpkin was spiced like a pie filling, and the contrast with the garlic and basil tang in the sauce captivated my taste buds.
Unfortunately, Bill’s sole, touted as a house specialty, seemed a bit overcooked, the crust gone dark in the wine and butter sauté. It was topped with tomatoes, although they didn’t have much flavor.
Pizzico rightly prides itself on its wines, with an enormous wine cellar and more than 600 selections. True to form, the Shiraz by the glass ($6, Broken Earth, Australia) was the best we’ve had in a long time, as was the glass of white ($8) from the Castello Banfi vineyards in Italy.
Among the restaurant’s desserts, including their special tiramisu, the pear almond torte ($6.50) and the chocolate mousse cake ($7.50) most interested us. The torte was delicate, but a bit too sweet and not almondy enough for me. The chocolate cake was fine.
Décor at Pizzico gives off the distinct air of an Italian trattoria: light peach walls, with a monochrome mural in the corner near us and painted vines near the ceiling. Elsewhere, window openings peek into other sections of the restaurant, and the newest dining room features rotating exhibits from local artists. Abundant green plants bring a bit of the outdoors inside, as do the front-window tables, with street strollers just a few inches away.