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No pretentions, just good Italian food at Piccolino

Piccolino is the Santa Fe exception: a family-owned, family-oriented and seriously local place that doesn’t serve New Mexican food. It’s all Italian all the time here. The pages-long menu has every Italian classic you can think of and I found myself wondering if the kitchen staff numbered in the dozens, all invisibly at work concocting sauces and whipping up everything from massive salads to pizzas, pastas and veal three ways, plus dessert.

Piccolino, in other words, has its act together. And thus we wisely arrived before 5:30 one weekday evening: By six o’clock, it was standing room only in the lobby. Neither the kitchen nor the waitstaff, however, missed a beat in the ensuing hour we enjoyed our supper.

The meal started with bread – Piccolino offers cubes of focaccia lightly dusted with herbs and a sheen of olive oil, with a light tomato dipping sauce alongside. We appreciated it, nibbling as we perused the menu.

My guest chose a small Caesar salad ($3.99) and was best pleased with a just-right plateful of chopped romaine, creamy dressing and croutons. I barely managed to filch a taste.

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She followed with one of the day’s specials: scallops and shrimp with angel-hair pasta in a creamy mushroom sauce ($16.99). It was excellent: Seafood and pasta perfectly cooked, and the sauce was rich with mushrooms and their flavor. I hope this dish is on special the next time I visit Piccolino.

I opted for another Italian classic, veal saltimbocca ($15.99), and was equally pleased. Thin medallions of veal were lightly sautéed, and topped with smoky prosciutto and soft fontina cheese. The “brown sauce” mentioned in the menu was laced with something – marsala wine was my guess – and very nice.

Alongside were servings of spaghetti with the same meatless tomato sauce served up with the bread, and a very generous and imaginative serving of sautéed vegetables. Like the pasta, these were perfectly cooked, the carrots still al dente, the summer squash medley soft, but not mushy. Broccoli florets and a few snow pea pods rounded out the selection.

Piccolino’s extensive menu offered many other temptations. Memory refreshed, I’ll be back to sample several things that caught my eye. Chopped antipasto, a kind of meaty, cheesy salad, tempted me that blistering hot summer night, but would have been a meal in itself, I guessed, and thus not suited to my review purposes.

I’ve tried a couple of Piccolino’s pasta al forno dishes, including their lasagna, and would like to try more. The ravioli selection looks good too, and includes artichoke or spinach-stuffed pasta with a choice of sauce, including one made with gorgonzola. I’m not a big pizza fan, but Piccolino also offers calzone, the folded-over version of pizza that looks like a giant turnover. The shrimp, spinach and mushroom combo sounded interesting.

And we should note that green chile IS on the menu at Piccolino: check out the pastas “Bollaco,” as well as the pizzas.

Desserts at Piccolino are classics, too, and best classified as Italian-American. Thus, cheesecake and chocolate cake are listed, together with the tiramisu ($4.99) we settled on. The person who thought to pour a cup of coffee over plain cake, and then top it with lots of whipped cream and cocoa was a genius. Piccelino’s version is unpretentiously good and the serving generous – more than enough for the two of us to share.

I tend to forget about Piccolino, which is off my beaten Santa Fe path, on Agua Fria just east of Siler Road. But I’m glad I remembered it and, this time, I’ll try not to forget that it’s the place to go for an unpretentious, but very good, meal.


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