I have never known much about South Phoenix. Even as a young kid, my exposure to that area of town consisted of going to Sky Harbor airport or taking a trip with Mom and Dad down to the Japanese Flower Gardens or driving up to the top of South Mountain to see the Phoenix lights. Even though things have changed over the years, I still rarely get to that part of town because I haven’t heard much on the dining scene there that has enticed me.
So, I was a little surprised when Madge and Boris told me about an Italian restaurant near 16th Street and Baseline Road that was quite good. They assured me the place served good food and I would be pleased. Since I had a wedding to attend that early evening, I told them I would meet them there. They told me that they would be bringing a couple they knew to join us for dinner as well.
After maneuvering my way from the wedding reception in Central Phoenix, I was able to get down to Baseline Road and head east before stumbling upon the stand-alone building on the south side of the street. I pulled into the parking lot and then entered to find Madge and Boris waiting at a table for me. They said their friends Jose and Mila would be there shortly.
After Jose and Mila arrived, we were visited by a very nice server who took our drink orders. There were four Diet Cokes ($2.00 each) and one Iced Tea (2.00) ordered. Our server then said she would return with our drinks and some bread. As I was given more formal introductions to Jose and Mila, I was peppered with questions about food blogging and the wedding I attended.
Only a few minutes had passed before our server brought our drinks, along with water and a plate of rolls with a ramekin of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We all were apparently very hungry as we each scrambled for a roll and began dipping the pieces of the bread into the oil. The rolls were hot and fresh and I loved the chewy texture. I was somewhat disappointed with the olive oil as it seemed rather tasteless. The balsamic vinegar was fine, but I wish there had been much more of it.
Our server then took our orders. To begin, we decided to split the Rajas Gratin ($9.00) and a Pesto Pizza ($9.00). For our main courses, Madge selected the Sausage and Fennel Pizza ($10.00) and Boris got the Herb Crusted Chicken with Orzo ($16.00). Jose was all about the Gnocchi ($13.00) while Mila went for the other chicken dish on the menu, the Roasted Pesto Chicken with Fettucini Alfredo ($14.00). I decided to have the Garlic Pizza ($9.00). I also ordered the Caesar Salad ($6.00) which pushed Madge into ordering the Salad de Campo ($5.00).
After our server left, we went back to our conversation, but I couldnâ€™t help but notice the comfortable interior. With the bright walls and dark trim, the space simply worked as far as making the place pleasant and inviting. The various artwork and the lighting scheme helped as well.
The Rajas Gratin arrived and the blazing hot casserole dish surrounded by toast points was a visually attractive dish. The smell of onions and garlic wafting over the table made it even more so. The combination of mushrooms, onions and chiles with a creamy sauce made this an interesting mix. We all gave this dish a try and we seemed to like its bold flavor and abundant ingredients. Madge isnâ€™t very fond of onions, so this was a bit of turn off for her, but the rest of us loved the dish.
Madgeâ€™s Salad de Campo arrived and it was a plate with a moderate serving of fresh baby greens tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Madge said the salad was â€œpretty goodâ€ but expressed some disappointment that it wasnâ€™t more than it was. She stressed that it was a (no pun intended) garden variety salad with nothing special about it. Madge said it needed something more to be a stand out.
My Caesar Salad was very interesting. It had the traditional components of Romaine lettuce, croutons, grated cheese and a tangy dressing, but it also included bits of sun-dried tomatoes. Those provided an interesting sweetness to the salad. The salad was fresh and cold and the only complaint I had was that the dressing was on a bit thick for my taste, but it was a very good and creative twist to a basic Caesar salad.
Our Pesto Pizza arrived and we loved the basil perfume that hit us. After a piece each, we all declared it a success. It was heavy on the basil and light on the oil with plenty of cheese to make it all meld together. An addition of pine nuts gave it a bit of a crunch. The crust was excellent, except for the very ends of the edges which were oddly overly chewy.
After a short wait, our entrees started arriving. Borisâ€™ Herb Crusted Chicken with Orzo was a large breast that had been treated with herbs and prosciutto, then served with a small amount of orzo. Boris loved the chicken and noted that it was nearly falling off the bone, but expressed some disappointment at the meager serving of prosciutto. He did say the orzo was quite good, but there should have been more of it.
Madgeâ€™s Sausage and Fennel Pizza was fantastic. Right off the bat, Madge said she had a winner and kept calling it â€œoutstandingâ€ and â€œfabulous.â€ The combination of the sausage and the fennel made the pizza a table favorite. I thought it was a very well prepared pizza. The components were all top notch, especially the caramelized fennel and roasted red peppers. The Fontina cheese was also an excellent addition.
Jose’s Roasted Chicken with Fettucini Alfredo was a roasted chicken breast stuffed with pesto and served on a bed of Fettucini Alfredo and served with a side of sauteed asparagus. Jose thought it was superb, noting the moist chicken breast and the pesto. The Alfredo was also quite good with its creamy sauce an al dente pasta.
Mila’s Gnocchi looked delicious. There was an ample serving of the potato-based pasta coated with a thin marinara sauce. The pasta was light and fluffy and not overly heavy. Mila said she thought it was outstanding. Mila then exclaimed, â€œItâ€™s Gnocchi-riffic! And you can quote me on that.â€
My Garlic Pizza was divine. The pizza was well prepared and the cheesy, mozzarella top hid a massive amount of garlic and basil. So much so the garlic actually was making the pizza incredibly spicy. But I loved every bite of it. The only thing I didnâ€™t care for was, again, the very edges of the crust that were chewy to tough. Still, I was very pleased with my selection.
After polishing off almost everything on the table, our server began to remove plates and offer us dessert. After hearing the selections, there were three desserts ordered for the table: a slice of Italian Rum Cake ($7.00), the Tiramisu ($6.00) and an Italian Chocolate Pudding ($7.00).
There was a short wait before the desserts arrived. The Tiramisu was a large serving of the creamy delight. I declined having any of the desserts that evening, but there were raves about the Tiramisu especially that it was smooth and silky and had plenty of taste. I thought the portion size was pretty good since most places dole out tiramisu like it was saffron.
The Italian Rum Cake was a large slice of a three layer cake with frosting and rum flavor throughout. This was also a hit, especially because the rum was so prevalent and gave the cake a fresh flavor. We were in awe of the berries that accented the cake as they were juicy and delicious. There was, however, a spot or two of the cake that was reportedly dry. Perhaps it didnâ€™t get enough rum, but the cake was enjoyed nonetheless. In fact, it was such a hit that a second round of the cake was ordered.
The shining star of the desserts, however, was the Italian Chocolate Pudding. The rich, dark, dense pudding was served in a wine glass in a simple, yet elegant, presentation. Madge had suggested getting this and she said the pudding was fantastic, but bordered on cloying with its rich sweetness. Others at the table agreed that it was a stellar dessert, but rather dense.
After finishing up the desserts, we requested our bill. The total was $149.61 including tax, which we found to be a good value. We were, however, put off by the fact that we were charged for soda after one refill although the menu did not disclose this fact. Still, the service was efficient, friendly and warm. We had no complaints about our server.
Finding our way to the parking lot, we said our goodbyes and headed out. Mila and Jose were nice people and I was pleased that we met over a very good meal. Amanoâ€™s was an excellent choice and Madge and Boris were correct that this place was good. Very good, in fact.
I would even say it was â€œAmano-riffic!â€
And you can quote me on that.
1541 East Baseline Road
Phoenix, AZ 85042
Hours: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – 5 PM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday – 5 PM to 10 PM
Notes: Decent wine-by-the-glass list.