Vinny and Me â¢ 11639 Parkside Drive â¢ 675-3500
by Gay Lyons
If I had read the story on the website ( www.vinnyandme.com ) before visiting the restaurant, I'd have asked if it was true. It's a good story. The unnamed narrator, visiting Italy, is looking for places â“off the beaten pathâ” and stumbles upon Vinny's, a small restaurant picturesquely located between two crumbling buildings. After enjoying the â“most divineâ” dining experience, the narrator resolves to bring Vinny's â“soul and passion for foodâ” to Knoxville. While Vinny's might have been a more predictable name for the restaurant, the name Vinny and Me conveys the connection between the narrator and Vinnyâ"and besides, as a quick Google revealed, the LoBello family of Algonquit, Maine, already claimed www.vinnys.com for Vinny's East Coast Grille.
The menu, written in Italian with English subtitles and descriptions, is divided into nine categories, not counting dessert options, which are delivered by the server. Though tempted by the grilled octopus, grilled seafood platter and Peperoni Farcitti Del Bambino (pickled baby green peppers stuffed with aged provolone cheese and wrapped in prosciutto), as our appetizer, we decided on the calamari. Other choices include bruschetta, fried cheese ravioli, mussels marinara and mussels in wine.
Two soups are offered: minestrone and a soup of the day. In addition to the house salad and Caesar salad, there are two tomato salads: caprese and a â“country saladâ” of tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, kalamata olives and feta cheese tossed with oregano, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
EntrÃ©e choices include pasta dishes such as roasted veal cannelloni, penne in a vodka-infused sauce and linguini with mussels, clams, squid and shrimp. Several dishes feature chicken, veal or beef. These come with a choice of soup or salad and a side of either spaghetti pomodoro or garlic and eggplant mashed potatoes. The seafood offeringsâ"except for appetizers and pasta dishesâ"are fewer. The options are grilled sea bass in either a port wine sauce or a white wine and lemon-caper sauce along with a fresh fish of the day.
If standard dishes are your preference, you'll find lots of these on the menu. Choices include five cheese manicotti, veal marsala and chicken picatta. The menu also includes one of my simple favorites: Spaghetti Aglio E Olio, spaghetti sautÃ©ed with olive oil and garlic. However, two of the less common dishes caught my eye this night. I love the combination of wilted greens and white beans, so I had to try the Vessuvioâ"sautÃ©ed chicken breast, Italian sausage, garlic, olive oil and marinara served over a bed of greens and beans. And the description of the Ravioli della salvia e del Vitello was impossible to resist: ravioli stuffed with veal and sage sautÃ©ed with clarified butter and sage topped with pecorino cheese.
The calamari consisted of both rings and strings, hot, crunchy and slightly greasyâ"but not unpleasantly so. Who expects fried squid to be health food? The accompanying marinara sauce was deliciousâ"very chunky. The plate of olive oil that came with the basket of crusty, airy bread slices was dressed up with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and flecks of basil.
The house salad consisted of field greens topped with artichokes, roasted red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and croutons. The attractive presentation was perked up by the vinaigrette, which was tarter than most, with lots of little onion bits.
The Vessuvio offered a delightful combination of flavors and textures. The moist chicken breast and sausage chunks were tossed in just enough tomato sauce to blend the ingredients and seep slightly into the vibrant greens mixed with soft white beans. The sage and veal in the ravioli were a perfect match. The sage exerted only slight dominance in the soft, mild filling and lent a pleasingly peppery bite to the butter sauce.
Desserts available the night we were there were New York cheesecake, chocolate dipped canoli, tiramisu and amaretto crÃme brulee. It was a tough choice. Wouldn't it be great if restaurants adopted a sampler platter approach to dessert? After soliciting advice from our server, we selected the tiramisu, which was a less traditional version of the popular dessert: a scoop of creamy tiramisu in a martini glass, garnished with mint and a cream-filled pirouline with a dusting of cocoa.
The restaurant creates a rustic Italian ambiance with faux painting, wooden tables and booths, colorful chairs and bar stools, Dean Martin songs and an open kitchen. Service was mostly good, and the timing was perfect. Each dish arrived at just the right time.
The range of choices on the menu is mirrored by the range in prices. The sea bass, steak and veal dishes occupy the high end. For example Fileto Vinny costs $29.95, and several veal dishes cost a whopping $44.95. However, there are lots of dishes in the $12-15 range, including the two entrees we ordered. It's your choice whether dining at Vinny and Me puts a major dent in your walletâ"or just a tiny nick.
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