Il Vecchio is well-loved. You don’t even need to hear from locals that it’s one of their favorites – you can ascertain as much from walking by and peeking in.
On a Saturday night, you might not even be able to peek in because the line is out the door.
Each guest was either smiling or eating (or both), and each dish appeared so beautiful: heaps of pasta are somehow presented delicately with meaty or vegetable accents, with fragrant marinara and pesto wafting through the air. I already knew it was going to be difficult to pick dinner from the list of mouthwatering options.
Three-cheese polenta and a house salad offered a little time to think. The firm yet tender cornmeal arrived with plenty of melty cheese and a lively housemade marinara. Simple greens showed off depth with marinated onions, peppers and zucchini, plus a balsamic dressing that just screams of a secret recipe.
It’s not uncommon for a restaurant’s appetizers to be more creative than their entrees, but this is not the case at Il Vecchio. Each bite seemed more delectable than the one before.
Several of the pastas are made fresh in-house daily. Others are handmade and imported from Italy. Mushrooms laced with truffle paste on al ceppo noodles from Abruzzo boasted earthy complexity, especially juxtaposed with a buttery cream sauce that managed to feel light. It was hard to stop eating, but even more so when the pork arrived.
The restaurant recently celebrated its eight-year anniversary, and during that time there are a few classics that haven’t changed. One is brasato di maile – pork shoulder braised in red wine and fruit. Set alongside crunchy carrots, green beans and a luxurious bed of mashed potatoes, the saucy meat delivered so much flavor as to make the entire plate disappear. The rich, melt-in-your-mouth pork mixed its savoriness with a sweet glaze hinting at notes of the apple it was soaked and cooked in.
Desserts come just as handmade as everything else, including gelato you can take home by the half pint. Cannoli is a beloved treat – a crispy pastry roll that dissolves effortlessly to reveal an interior of fluffy cream. Orange-scented chocolate adds interest, as does subtle ricotta and a drop of marsala wine.
For those who prefer their sweets slightly heavier (ahem), it may be difficult to avoid glances at the chocolate mascarpone cake sitting, tantalizingly, on a counter nearby.
It’s not really fair. I watched throughout dinner as piece by piece disappeared, and eventually had to try a bite myself. The chocolate – dark, indulgent and spongy – lays the foundation for layers of velvety mascarpone cream. With a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of raspberry syrup on top, one bite turned into more… and then more.
That kind of temptation occurs here again and again, course after course.
IL VECCHIO 110 Central Ave., Pacific Grove. Noon-1:30pm, 5-8:30pm Mon-Thu; 8am-noon, 5-9pm Fri; 8am-noon, 5-9pm Sat; 8am-noon, 5-8:30pm Sun. 324-4282,ilvecchiorestaurant.com.