Monday, May 2, 2011

Vivace

  • Come for the amazing décor, excellent service and views…
  • …stay for the apps and Italian wines/cocktails…
  • …but don’t stay for entrees… 
Vivace has been on my list of places to dine for some time now.  I had been for apps and drinks on their gorgeous patio, but never for a full-on dinner situation.  The reason I waited so long to come for dinner is that frahhnkly I’d heard some less than flattering reviews.  The general consensus among my foodie friends is that Vivace is the perfect spot for cocktails and apps, but that the mains are seriously underwhelming.  The online reviews are mixed – Helen Schwab didn’t love the food (see review here), however in response to her write-up some Vivace-loyalists accused her of confusing the place with Olive Garden and were calling for her resignation.  Way harsh guys...  After some first hand investigation, I regret to say that I must side with Helen and with my foodie friends.

My girlfriend Kristen and I arrived around 7:30pm on a Wednesday with no reservations and were immediately seated.  The décor at Vivace is absolutely stunning and makes a strong first impression – very much a modern, sophisticated and super-luxe vibe.  We were seated upstairs, which afforded a divine semi-al fresco dining experience.  The evening was lovely and mild, and the doors to the upstairs patio area were completely open to the dining room.  Our table offered sweeping views of downtown Charlotte and the newly expanded metro portion of the greenway.  Quick and random observation – of the 30-40 people in the upstairs dining room at the time, 90%+ were attractive twenty- and thirty-something women – so definitely plenty of eye-candy! 
Upstairs Bar 
Lovely view from our table
Sexy downstairs bar

Downstairs seating area
View from upstairs balcony


We were still waiting on my husband at this point, but decided to start with a bottle of Italian red.  I freely admitted my ignorance of Italian wines to our fabulous server, Tiffany, who promptly suggested several “budget friendly” options.  She seemed to really know her wines, and we went with one of her suggestions.  I will say that I personally prefer to be asked my price range on wine up front, rather than having someone assume I want a bargain bottle…it is a tad presumptuous.  We did end up with a tasty and inexpensive bottle, but I probably would have been willing to part with more shekels for a higher end vino.  One other knit – our wine took at least 10 minutes to arrive at our table – kind of a long time when you are ready to get your drink on! 

As a starter, we went with the Meat and Cheese Plate (six items for the bargain price of $12!) and selected the prosciutto, sopressata and Milano salami as our meats and the parmigiano, asiago and fresh mozzarella as our cheeses.  It was served on a huge rustic board with an apricot mustard, chestnut honey and marmalade.  I loved the entire presentation – the accoutrements were spooned onto the board tableside as each item was described to us, adding to the warm, homey, Italian mama feel.  All of the meats and cheeses were high quality and tasty; my only complaint would be that the apricot mustard had such an assertive flavor that it basically blew out my palate (so use sparingly).  Fortunately for my husband Elliot, he arrived before Kristen and I could devour the entire appetizer.
MMMMMMeat and Cheese


Next the three of us split a pasta course – the Agnolotti Piemontese, a meat and fontina cheese stuffed pasta with spinach and a truffle butter sauce.  Tiffany thoughtfully had the kitchen put it on three separate plates for us, which was a nice touch.  Elliot and Kristen (who by the way eats authentic Italian food prepared by her grandmother all the time) both liked the pasta dish.  I am not a huge pasta person, but could certainly appreciate the well-prepared fresh housemade pasta.  I guess I was longing for some textural contrast to all the soft components, or perhaps a bright flavor note to play against the earthiness of the truffle butter.  But all that might fly in the face of the tradition of this dish – I admit that I don’t know…just personal preferences.
Our Pasta Course

Next up were our entrées – I had the Speck-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, served with new potatoes, Sicilian salsa verde and a radish and watercress salad.  Mine was unanimously the best plate on the table, with the speck creating a nice crispy crust for the pork and the salsa verde having a bold flavor.  The potatoes also had a lovely browning on them, adding a layer of flavor and texture.  Tiffany advised that the Chef recommends the pork medium rare, which gave me a bit of pause as I am more of a medium girl with pork, but I decided to throw caution to the wind.  I know…I’m such a daredevil.  Ultimately, the smaller end pieces of pig ended up at medium, which suited me just fine.  The thicker medallions were a perfect mid-rare, but a bit under for my personal liking. 
Speck-Wrapped Pork

Kristen had the Veal Saltimbocca, which was by far the biggest disappointment of the night.  The meat was exceedingly tough (a la old shoe leather) and way too thick – possibly the worst piece of meat I’ve ever put in my mouth…yikes.  The mozzarella ravioli were lacking flavor and porcini brown butter was decidedly not delicious (plus there were probably more mushrooms on the plate than all other components, including the veal...but perhaps that was a blessing?).  Elliot had the Anatra Di Fico – duck breast with confit risotto and fig sauce.  The entire plate was bland, although the preparation of the duck was no where near as offensive as the hockey puck-like veal.  I didn’t like it, I didn’t hate it, I nothinged it.  Lame.  We shared the Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata for desert, which I also nothinged. 
Shoe Leather Saltimboca

Duck
Strawberry Rhubarb Crostata with Honey Lavender Gelato


I left Vivace that evening feeling sad – I desperately wanted the poor entrée reviews to be wrong – but they weren’t in my opinion.  Although it is puzzling…for as many bad reviews and I had seen and heard, there are an equal number of positive reviews online.  Did we order the wrong items? Hardly an excuse…why have bad food on your menu?  Are people so dazzled by the amazing and sophisticated atmosphere that they have blinders on when it comes to the food?  Possible, it is STUNNING!  Maybe the people who liked the food stuck to the delicious appetizers and pizzas?  All is not lost however, as I will undoubtedly be back for any occassion calling for apps and drinks.  Just don’t ask me to stay for dinner. 


- Brianna

Vivace Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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