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Don’t let leisurely service keep you from Spazzio’s eggplant medallions.
Don’t let leisurely service keep you from Spazzio’s eggplant medallions.

Spazzio’s Italian Cantina seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. The original name, Spago Pizza and Vino, apparently infringed on a Wolfgang Puck trademark. Despite the confusion, this newish family-owned eatery has quickly become a popular destination in its North Arlington neighborhood.

One reason for its success may be that until the liquor license arrives, the place is BYO beer or wine, with no corkage fee. The industrial chic-meets-homey Italian décor is charming, and the restaurant was nearly full the night my table of four visited, which pleased our amiable hostess. The full house also provided for what can only politely be called a very leisurely meal.

The meatball appetizer over warm parmesan polenta was the most singularly lovely dish of the meal –– and one of my all-time favorites as a reviewer. Two golf-ball sized beef-and-veal meatballs were nestled in a dollop of fresh basil-kissed pomodoro sauce, atop some lusciously creamy cheese-infused polenta. The item was as big and filling as an entrée and was easily split four ways.

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[pullquote_right]The overly lavish serving of ziti mostly remained on the plate, not because the pasta was bad but because there was just so much other good food. [/pullquote_right]The second appetizer, a generous serving of fried calamari, came served with some lightly battered veggies. The squid was delicately crusty and perfectly cooked, and the lemony aioli dipping sauce was spectacular. Additionally, it was fun playing guess-the-mystery-fried-vegetable.

The special that night was lobster ravioli served in a lobster bisque sauce with tiny bay scallops and bay shrimp. The pasta was homemade, paper-thin, and abundantly stuffed with lobster and cheesy goodness. The rich, creamy bisque sauce alone would have made a great meal, and this was the only entrée plate that was actually scraped clean to get to the last little puddles of sauce.

The chicken parmesan with ziti was a solid version of the Italian staple. The marinara sauce is really what makes chicken parm fly or fail. At Spazzio, the pomodoro sauce was light and fruity, with a good balance of sweet and acidic flavors. The whole dish was blanketed with buffalo mozzarella. The overly lavish serving of ziti mostly remained on the plate, not because the pasta was bad but because there was just so much other good food.

The linguini pescatore was a mélange of tiny scallops and tiny shrimp along with a few mussels, which were cooked well and tasted fresh. If you’re picky about your seafood and don’t prefer the baby version of scallops and shrimp, you probably want to steer clear of this item. If you’re not that picky, the garlicky sauce and perfect linguini should make you happy.

The dressing on the caesar salad wasn’t savory but oddly sweet. However, the greens had been topped with giant shards of parmesan, which provided a nice counterpoint to the sugary taste of the dressing.

Several desserts on the menu sounded good. The Ultimate Brownie was warm and covered with marshmallows and melted chocolate fudge, balanced by a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream. The limoncello cake, soaked in the traditional lemon-based liqueur, was light and dainty, with a layer of lemon-flavored cream. It was hard to judge which was better: light, boozy pound cake or the brownie’s irresistible combo of flavors, textures, and temperatures.

The wait staffers seemed fairly new, and the timing on the service was also awkward. The huge, delicious garlic rolls that are supposed to come out as soon as you sit down didn’t arrive until right before our entrées. The benefit to that late arrival was that the rolls could be used to sop up the excellent lobster bisque and pomodoro sauce. Spazzio’s can be forgiven for some growing pains. Any non-chain restaurant serving up some of Nonna’s homemade cooking is welcome.

 

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Spazzio’s Italian Cantina

2500 NE Green Oaks Blvd, Ste 106, Arlington. 817-633-0830. 11am-10pm Mon-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

Meatballs with polenta……………………. $7.99

Lobster ravioli……………………………… $19.99

Chicken parmesan……………………….. $11.99

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