Review: Aiello's - Phoenix (w/ photos!)
One of the cuisines that always seems to get short shrift from me is Italian. I am not sure why because I love Italian food. There is something incredibly comforting and fulfilling about a big plate of pasta or a wonderful chicken dishes with sometimes subtle, sometimes robust sauces.
I also always seem to think about that in my routine of selecting a restaurant. Mexican, Asian, even Middle Eastern get considered first.
But I was having a craving for Italian food and I strong armed J. into finding a nice Italian restaurant in the Valley that could give us some hearty food but not bust the wallet. After doing some searching, we decided to try out Aiello’s, a relatively new Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in Phoenix just north of Camelback. I had heard some good reports about Aiello’s was glad that they were able to take a late reservation.
After arriving, we parked in the back parking lot and saw a small Dutch door with a big sign touting Aiello’s take out pizza. We made our way to the side of the building and entered and were taken to a large table in the middle of the restaurant. Our initial impressions were very favorable due to the subdued lighting, the lovely vaulted ceiling and layout of the restaurant. It was quite relaxing and subdued and the Sinatra music didn’t hurt either.
We scanned the menu and it was very extensive. J. and I both had a tough time deciding on what we should get. While we decided, we were presented with a basket of bread, garlic butter, and flavored olive oil. The bread was wonderful with its light, salty flavor and a slightly chewy crust. What made it even better was the flavored olive oil that had been infused with spicy peppers. Absolutely delicious and the kick of spice complimented the bread quite well. We agreed that the garlic butter was excellent because they didn’t shy away from the garlic. Hooray!
Our waiter arrived and took our drink order: one Diet Coke ($2.00) and one Iced Tea ($2.00). When he returned with our beverage selections, he took our order. J. and I agreed to get the Antipasto for Two ($16.00). That would be followed by the Chicken Parmesan ($17.00) for me and the Italian Sausage and Peppers ($14.00) for J.
While we waited, J. and I noticed how the owner of the restaurant was visiting tables, making sure the food prep was proceeding and was just being generally affable with the staff and customers. It was nice to see and very welcome. You could see how much the owner loved his restaurant and wanted to make his customers happy.
Our Antipasto for Two arrived and it was surprising, but in a very good way. Missing from the plate was the inevitable gobs of lettuce hidden under the meats, vegetables and cheeses. No, this version was all about the small, tasty treats that we would drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some of the spicy olive oil. The plate was socked full of mozzarella, vine tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, roasted peppers, prosciutto, Provolone, marinated artichoke hearts, salami and olives. It was a wonderful treat. The portion was perfect for two and the platter of vegetables, cheeses and meats were stellar. The balsamic and spicy oil only served to enhance the dish that much more. J. and I were raving about the appetizer because it was superb. What a fun and ambrosial way to start out meal.
We had just finished our Antipasto when our main dishes arrived. J.’s Italian Sausage and Peppers was an optic treat. The large serving of Italian Sausage was great for J. He loved the snap and the spice of the sausage and really appreciated the sweetness of the peppers since they added a wonderful counterbalance to the savory nature of the dish. He also like the spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce as the side dish. He did say he would have preferred a bit more sauce, but still enjoyed everything on his plate.
My Chicken Parmesan was exactly what I wanted. A large boneless chicken breast was breaded and then sauteed. On top of the chicken was a hearty amount of thick Pomodoro sauce with mushrooms and a slab of mozzarella cheese that had melted and was lightly browned. Along side the chicken was a serving of spaghetti with some of the same Pomodoro sauce that adorned the chicken. The chicken itself was tender, moist and perfectly cooked. It could easily have been overcooked, but it certainly wasn’t. I also like the fact that even with the sauce, cheese and moistness of the chicken, the breading still had a good bit of crispiness to it. The sauce was not overpowering but slightly acidic, a tiny hint of spice and a full-bodied flavor. The mushrooms provided a good texture. The spaghetti was al dente and held the sauce well. I had nothing but good things to say about my dish. J. tried a bite and was very pleased with the results. “Quite good,” he said.
We took our time working through our meals and when it was all said and done, we knew we didn’t have room for dessert. We had another round of beverages and asked for the bill. The total was $55.25 which included the tax. We thought it was an very good value. The portions were very satisfactory and the quality of the food was excellent. Service was good, but we did have a quibble about the fact that getting refills on our drinks seemed to take an inordinate amount of time.
Before we could pay our bill, the owner approached our table and asked us how our dinner was. We told him how much we enjoyed it and he said he was pleased and wanted us to play a pick-a-number game with him. He grabbed an onion shaped container and shook it. The rattling sound filled the restaurant and he told us that there were 90 numbered tiles in the container and we were to pick a number. He would then turn the container over and a tile would spill out. If the tile matched our number, the entire meal was on the house. I let J. pick the number. His choice was 32.
The tile that spilled out was…. 33.
5202 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday – 11 AM to 4 PM; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday – 4 PM to 9 PM, Friday and Saturday – 4 PM to 10 PM.
Notes: Entrance is on the north side of the building. Ample parking in the back.
Alcohol: Full bar.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
5202 North Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012
Just came back from here. Huge positives of owner interaction- he personally went to every single table tonight to ensure customer satisfaction. The roominess and soft lighting were huge pluses, adding to the nice atmosphere.
Our first impression of the food was very high, with some very fluffy bread with a nice crust. The garlic butter was also tasty, as well as the olive oil with red peppers in it. Unfortunately the bread was room temperature and the butter was too hard to spread easily on the bread. I would be raving about this bread if I had simply received it hot.
The gf ordered a Sprite, and I whimsically chose a glass of Orvieto Classico Amabile. A very light and fruity wine, I don't really know what to say about it, as I did say whimsically- probably ordered wine 3-4 times in my life! I can say that I enjoyed it, wasn't wowed but it, but I do have to realize I can't have Kiltlifter with everything.
For an appetizer we split the calamari, which I do have to say was absolutely fantastic. Very slightly breaded, it came with a spicy marinara sauce that gave this appetizer a great kick.
I also need to give huge kudos to Aiello's being tolerant of my indecisiveness. I was torn between the special of the day, and the gnocchi in pesto sauce. Fortunately, they were willing to accommodate me and gave me a half order of each!
Where this meal fell short was the entrees. The first half-entree I I ordered was the butternut squash ravioli in cream sauce, seasoned with nutmeg. The edges of the ravioli were inexcusably hard. The filling was past the texture level of puree and approaching that of liquidy mashed potatoes. The sauce was nice and creamy but very relaxed in flavor- the sauce had the perfect body but just didn't wow me. Bland isn't quite fair, but neither is comforting. It was just kinda there.
My girlfriend's Tortolloni alla Panna suffered similar problems. At least the cheese filling was a nice consistency, but the cheese was just bland inside, and the light cream sauce was even less inspirational than mine. The peas were overcooked and the prosciutto, instead of giving a nice salty edge to her meal, only showed up in a purely ceremonial role.
Rebounding was my Gnocchi Pesto. Really addicting, very light as described on the menu, I ate them without realizing how quickly these were disappearing. Basil, pine nuts, and garlic teamed up and put the other light creme sauces we had to shame. This was a very nice rendition of a classic. I've had better, but I've had lots lots worse.
Wanting to really like this place, I tried to end the night on a high note with desert. Tirimisu seduced me once more, and this version was great, with a high alcohol content then normal, but no complaints on that score. Very chocolatey, powdered sugar abundant, and a strawberry to the side was a nice touch.
Unfortunately, the last note was discordant as it took nearly 25 minutes to get my check. This was so that the owner could personally come to my table to check on us. While I appreciated the gesture, around minute 15 or so I would've appreciated even more the opportunity to leave. Of course, on the other hand I love how much he cared, I just wish it didn't take so long. Oh well.
I'll be happy to try this place again, and perhaps order more wisely. The 2 pasta entrees, desert, appetizer, soda, and glass of wine came out to be $68. If the entrees had matched the desert and appetizer I'dve said it was worth every penny. As things stand I will need to try it again to find out- which for love of independent, charismatic owners and businesses I will.