In the Family
Zillo’s offers a convivial place to get robust Italian in Carmel.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The Godfather seat our server leads me to—the one in the corner with a view of the room and its back to the wall—feels appropriate: this is a place where respect—as well as quality food and goomba familiarity —carries the evening.
Zillo’s is clean and well-appointed, a welcome departure from its most famous predecessor, Bully’s III, which had a dark tavern feel that got too dark toward the end. (Mulligan’s then held down the spot for a couple of years; the difference between the feel inside those spots and this one is dramatic.) In Zillo’s new cocktail area, a big U-shaped shiny black marble bar centers a nice place to start the night. Around it, late evening light spills in through several big arched windows, a flatscreen tracks the Giants, and framed pictures of Brando’s Godfather, Pacino’s Scarface and Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano look down approvingly.
With the smell from the kitchen kicking our olfactory into action, two Peninsula originals and I bellied up for some menu study and a sipper before the main event. We got good insight from the friendly and familial staff on both counts: Barman David MacDonald and an actual Zillo—Christy Salzillo—each contributed tips on stuff like pizzas and side dishes (more on that later). Salzillo, whose husband Frank launched the venture with siblings Salvatore and Elizabeth, went so far as to suggest (and personally mix) her favorite martini from a upscale cocktail menu that she says will appear barside shortly.
Peninsula original number one, Alex, loved the sweet and fragrant nectar of Christy’s Peachtini ($8.75). Amy (number two) tried a Farnese Sangiovese ($6.99), which arrived in an oversized glass. From the eight beers on tap, I chose a Moretti Italian import ($5/pint).
Once settled at the white-cloth-covered corner table, we keyed right into some starters, the Gnocchi de Patata ($8.50), on the recommendation of our server Amy, and the Tomato and Mozzarella salad ($7.95), as an Italian-appropriate litmus test.
Some sourdough and good garlic chive butter held us until the gnocchi rapture began. The big bowl of pillowy pasta came sprinkled with crunchy bits of proscuitto and could’ve easily been an entrée; ultimately, the little nibbles of indulgence handicapped our ability to finish the monster main plates on the way. Its pesto sauce wasn’t overly potent—though a little more garlic would’ve been welcome—and dovetailed well with the tomato salad, which had a pesto crown of its own and improved when we requested more basil. To max-out the sauce—and stretch our memories of the gnocchi—we had to order an extra basket of bread to wipe the bowl bare. A bottle of Chateau Julien Pinot Grigio ($21) helped set the dish off.
Then the ahh-yes entrées. Somehow Amy (the enchanting server) resisted dropping a classic Scarface refrain— “Say ‘ello to my little friend!”—when dropping off a massive Prime Rib ($22) for Amy (the lively gourmet).
As it landed, Amy, a self-proclaimed prime rib connoisseur, almost groaned with anticipation as the portobello mushroom reduction wafted its luxuriant aroma her way—and proceeded to proclaim the cut exquisite, enjoying its subtle rosemary tones and its tender marbled inch-and-a-half width. Meanwhile, the brocollini was just right and a side substituted on the counsel of Christy ‘Zillo nearly stole the show. The savory tangle of homemade angel hair marinara (subbed in place of mushroom risotto), sparked by a jolt of sweet basil and resonating on a higher plane with the flavors of garlic and onions, may have been the best element on the table.
Alex stuck with the day’s “From the Boat” special she saw on the board outside: local salmon with artichokes and bacon over mushroom risotto ($17.95). She loved the crunch of its quick-olive-oil seared exterior and the moistness of its middle. The sticky-soft risotto was salty but excellent, with a chicken stock base and earthy mushrooms.
My “Baby Face Nelson” pizza ($13.50)—ordered a little crispy on David’s advice—was a 16-inch, super-thin, two-cheese celebration of Italy. Its soft handmade meatballs were sliced slender and well-seasoned; best of all, they ran all the way to the narrow crust. And it was just one of a range of specialty pizzas like “Swimmin’ wit da Fishes” (clams, garlic, spinach and a white sauce, $14.50) and “Al Capone Cheese Steak” (strips of beef with sweet peppers, cheese and onions, $16).
Stuffed only halfway through the main course, we were forced to refuse the dessert phase—whether a homemade tiramisu ($6.50, as are all desserts) or layered tiramisu cocktail (another new creation). However, next time a dinner invite to Zillo’s comes my way, that would be, as the Godfather says, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
ZILLO’S TRADITIONAL ITALIAN RESTAURANT AND BAR NW corner of Dolores and Eighth, Carmel • 11:30am-close • 626-7822.