In case you missed it, here’s my review (of sorts) of opening night at il Vecchio that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.
When permits were approved sooner than expected, Il Vecchio hosted a soft opening starting last week ahead of Tuesday’s much-hyped opening. I met a friend for dinner here on Wednesday, the inaugural dinner service for the most anticipated new restaurant in Pacific Grove in, um, ever.
We started with the tortini di melanzane, an individual cup of baked eggplant mousse ($5). Everyone’s been hyping this dish, but when it arrived, the brown, crushed eggplant didn’t look pretty — and it didn’t taste much better than it looked.
One spoonful of that eggplant, and I was a little worried that maybe tonight’s opening was premature.
Luckily, our pastas set us back on the right course. We sampled two — the pasta alla carbonara ($11) and the gnocchi al gorgonzola con pere e mele ($12) — and both were quite good.
Il Vecchio is clearly marketing their pastas as their signature dish. Some of the pastas are made in-house; others use “imported DeCecco dry pasta.”
While the latter sounds fancy, remember this is the same pasta that’s sold down the block at Nob Hill for $2 a box. Hey, at least they’re honest — I’m sure other Italian restaurants in town use the same, but aren’t so upfront about it.
The pasta alla carbonara used fresh fettucine tossed with pancetta, egg, parmigiano, pecorino and black pepper in a flavorful combination.
The gnocchi, handmade from scratch, were light and — as clichéd as it sounds — literally did melt in my mouth. The gorgonzola cream sauce wasn’t too heavy, and nicely balanced with sweet slices of fresh apples and pears.
We ordered two meat dishes — pollo all cacciatora ($12) and salsiccia alla griglia ($12) — to balance out the pasta carbfest.
The chicken cacciatora was hands-down the best bite of the entire meal. The braised chicken was tender and moist. And the accompanying sauce with deep flavors of white wine, sage and rosemary was rich, without feeling heavy. It took all my willpower not to lick the plate clean!
The salsiccia alla griglia, with two housemade sweet Italian sausages, was good, but clearly overshadowed by that chicken.
We were a little disappointed with dessert — especially after such a great meal.
The crostata di ricotta — a butter-crust tart with ricotta and strawberry preserves ($5) — was too sweet, with crust that was dry and crumbly. The poached pear ($6) lost most of its pear flavor amid the overpowering punch of poaching merlot.
Il Vecchio is off to a strong start. Sure, things are still rough around the edges, especially with service, but the kitchen has gotten into a good groove. The new kid on the block is ready to compete with the Italian heavyweights in town.
One of my fellow Yelpers described the restaurant as a “new, old favorite” and it’s absolutely true — Il Vecchio will be perfectly at home with our local dining scene.
The simple Italian fare is comforting, and the space was lovingly designed to feel lived in. I’m looking forward to many more dinners at Il Vecchio.
Il Vecchio is at 110 Central Ave. in Pacific Grove. 324-4282. ilvecchiorestaurant.com.