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Classy, creative il Piatto still a delicious favorite

SANTA FE, N.M. — Lately, we can’t seem to get enough of Italy, or at least ristoranti italiani. And if a recent visit to a trattoria in the Railyard neighborhood reminded us of Rome’s out-of-the way Trastevere area, il Piatto on the sunny side of Marcy Street, to play the same game, might be the more central Campo de Fiori district.

Just a stroll up from the Plaza on an unseasonably warm mid-November afternoon, il Piatto (the Plate) is as informal and inviting as a traditional Italian country kitchen, which it endeavors to be, surrounded by hip shops, galleries, and with a superb strip of outdoor tables for two, molto romantico.

Inside, tucked in a corner of the bar and a little Frank Sinatra on the box, it could be Mulberry Street, Little Italy, NYC. Our trio settled in for two orders of the three course prix fixe ($25, appetizer, entrée and dessert; entrée prices noted henceforth).

The Bay Scallops Rockefeller ($13) with besciamella served on a half shell topped with breadcrumbs, onion and bits of bacon were a pluperfect, top-of-the-class, solid A.

The New Mexico beef carpaccio ($13) is top drawer, as well, and comes with a crisp arugula and heirloom tomato salad, crostini, but a bit overdressed with pickled onions, capers and a drizzle of mustard aioli.

The true test of any Italian restaurant, no matter where, is their spaghetti Bolognese. The dish is in my Pantheon of Comfort Foods and il Piatto’s very generous serving (lotsa’ pasta!), with a very Italian, savory ragu with bits of pork, prosciutto and beef, crowned with chunky flakes of Parmigiano, gets full marks.

Gorgonzola and walnut ravioli ($15) is an unbeatable combo and, here, with a sun-dried tomato pesto, is no exception, but for a decidedly, and a bit overriding, sweetness of indeterminate ingredient. (What was that?)

An order of calamari spaghetti ($14; in honor of Mulberry Street!) rounded out our entrées. Again quite generous, with lots of squid, lots of garlic (you can never overdo it) and adamantly savory – those bits of anchovies carry quite a wallop that a few turns of the pepper grinder balanced – and picante red pepper flakes in a velvety sauce of white wine and butter (lots, we were told).

We might sound ungrateful were we to ask for a bit more spaghetti (as in the Bolognese) for all those lonely squid at the end, but a bit of excellent bread was the solution (breads, pastries, pastas and pizzas use Sangre de Cristo Mills Whole Wheat Flour).

Desserts (part of our prix fixe deal) were panna cotta, tasty but decidedly too gelatinous; and, while not a favorite, the tiramisu was the real deal, cool, sweet whipped cream slathered between slices of coffee-soaked cake – firm, not soggy! – and a drizzle of chocolate. I stand corrected.

All in all, lunch was a smash, and dinner is more of the same excellence.

In addition, two happy hours (4:30-6 p.m. and 9-10:30 p.m.) are one of the best values around, offering half price on selected appetizers, entrées and wines (a comprehensive selection curated by sommelier Jamie Taylor).

After working in a number of internationally acclaimed kitchens and at The Coyote Cafe with Mark Miller, Chef Matt Yohalem opened il Piatto in 1996 (immediately given an Esquire Top 20 Best New Restaurants in America Award), and he has been a noted promoter of the farm-to-table movement, and a committed supporter of local organizations, artisans and markets. All meats and poultry are organic and free range, and a local fishmonger is engaged to fly in wild, sustainable or bio-dynamically farmed seafood.

After over two decades, il Piatto remains a classy, consistently reliable and immensely satisfying dining experience. Bravo!

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