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Italian delight: M’Tucci’s serves delicious, authentic fare in Rio Rancho

Let the interior of M’Tucci’s Moderno in Rio Rancho prepare you for the meal to come: bold, over-the-top and memorable.

This spacious Italian restaurant tucked into a strip mall near Presbyterian Rust Medical Center serves rich, indulgent pizzas and pastas in a setting that could have come straight out of Epcot Center.

Strings of lights hang from an ultrahigh ceiling. Potted plants mingle with ornate gold frames on faux brick walls and a giant garage door opens onto a patio with a perfect view of the Sandia Mountains.

In a place like this, you can reasonably expect a special meal, and M’Tucci’s doesn’t let you down.

A meal this week at M’Tucci’s started with a basket of fresh bread that came with one of the most interesting flavors in Albuquerque – a homemade olive oil infused with fresh basil, available only at M’Tucci’s (you can even buy it bottled). This incredibly flavorful, yet delicate, oil serves as a dip for the chunks of toasted bread.

This basil olive oil, to say nothing of the homemade Italian bread made from scratch every day, is worth the trip alone.

The bruschetta at M’Tucci’s Moderno has halved fresh grape tomatoes, mixed with fiery garlic, soaked in balsamic vinegar, then piled high on toast. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

As an appetizer, bruschetta can be a wildly variable dish. Some versions feature goat cheeses or phantom herbs, but M’Tucci’s is as classical as it gets ($7): incredibly fresh grape tomatoes are halved, mixed with fiery garlic, soaked in balsamic vinegar, then piled high on toast. Little strings of fresh sweet basil are sprinkled on top. It’s a perfect appetizer for two or three people, and it shows absolutely no signs of ever being frozen or prepared in advance.

Even more balsamic comes drizzled on top, like little globs of chocolate on a sundae. Like the interior itself, M’Tucci’s bruschetta is unabashedly rich.

The main course, though, was less forceful. I chose the tortellini pomodoro ($15), a small but filling dish of handmade pasta shells filled with creamy ricotta cheese. For protein and flavor, the tortellini comes with tiny strips of pancetta, an Italian bacon, sauteed to perfection. Fresh grape tomatoes and a fantastic marinara sauce finish the plate, and more fresh sweet basil is sprinkled throughout. For a bit of richness, shaved Parmesan cheese is piled on top.

It’s a phenomenal dish, not too heavy, but certainly filling, and it would be made even better by adding a glass of red wine.

Finishing the meal was an Italian “Twinkie” ($7) that is every bit as decadent as the rest of the meal. A giant pastry is filled with chilled cream, coated in sugary pecans and drizzled with caramel sauce. (You’ll want to take the dessert to go, because no mortal being can finish it there.)

M’Tucci’s has ample parking, seating for more than 100 guests, and a great wait staff. With its good, reasonably authentic Italian fare and a memorable interior, it could be your new favorite neighborhood bistro.