This new Italian restaurant on Ralston Avenue will charm you the moment you enter the warm, pumpkin-colored dining room. Softly lit by contemporary fixtures with crinkled paper shades and featuring a handsome wood bar and exposed wood-burning oven, Vivace provides mood and food that live up to its name (lively and spirited).
Owned by Mike Gundogdu. Vivace serves up a great assortment of appetizer pizzas, pastas, and entrées on its regular menu, along with daily specials—risottos, fresh fish dishes, interesting desserts, and featured wines.
Five of us began our meal by sharing the pizza margherita (seven to eight small slices) and the risotto ai funghi fresca (off the speciale del giorno menu). The margherita was an ideal starter, prepared exactly as you would find it in Milan. Sliced with a thin, homemade crust and the freshest ingredients. The risotto is made with imported Arborio rice, fresh porcini mushrooms (grown in Oregon), and white wine. It had a robust aroma and flavor and a delicate flavor, not the usual glue-like texture found in some risottos that are too rich to digest easily.
Light eaters can make the bread their appetizer. A basket of focaccia comes with olive oil and a delicious vinegar blended with chopped garlic. We also sampled the salads, favoring the insalata Cesare, tossed in a tangy dressing with plenty of anchovies, Parmesan cheese, and garlic croutons.
The pasta dishes are the best bet for entrées. A real winner is the house's special orecchiette (little ears), an adorable white pasta shell combined with the tops of Italian broccoli (cime di rape), garlic, anchovies, hot chili flakes, and extra virgin olive oil. The dish got raves at our table for its earthy flavor from the marriage of ingredients.
If you're a fan of penne, you'll enjoy the con salsiccia, enhanced by the addition of sausage, mushrooms, green peas, and fresh tomatoes, and topped with a hearty meat sauce. The portions are healthy here, so you might opt to split this or other pastas as an appetizer or side dish.
Seafood is available in the way of fresh halibut, king salmon, or the pappardelle alla pescatore, a delightful wide flat pasta tossed in a light tomato sauce with fresh clams, mussels, salmon, scallops, small prawns, and sea bass. You also will find jumbo prawns in brandy and fresh arugula (gamberoni al brandy) on the regular menu, along with a New York steak thinly sliced like flank steak, veal scaloppine with porcini mushrooms (vitello al porcini), chicken, lamb, and several vegetarian selections (grilled eggplant or roasted fresh veggies).
Desserts are highlighted on the special menu with traditional treats such as crème brûlée, torta di mela, and tiramisu. We sampled several of these and found the crème brûlée an honest, refreshing concoction that's highly desirable for that non-filling sweet boost at the end of a meal. You can actually walk away from the table and not be sorry that it put you over the edge.
The tiramisu delivered a sensational blend of flavors with just enough custard to offset the cake (they're generous with the cream but not too much cake, which seems to be the U.S. version of the dessert). And if you ask "pretty please" and bat your eyes, the chef might customize a warm zabaglione for you. It's prepared perfectly and is very Italian. Folks with high cholesterol, beware!
As a final note, this new hot spot fills up fast, so you might want to
make reservations well in advance. We stopped in on a Monday in the midst
of a horrendous storm. As we dined, the place filled up, and by the time
we left, it was packed.