We made it down to Colorado Springs on our late summer trip to Colorado earlier this year. After going through the Garden of the Gods and subsequently checking into our hotel, the historic Antlers Hilton, we decided we'd better start thinking about getting something to eat for the evening. We thought about German food, but then I found an Italian restaurant on Urbanspoon that looked pretty interesting - Paravicini's Italian Bistro. We set out toward the southwest side of Colorado Springs to go to Paravincini's.
Paravincini chef Franco Pisani was born in Connecticut and raised by Italian immigrants. He got his love of cooking from his mother, Mary, who taught him many of her families recipes that had been handed down through generations. Franco ended up going to culinary school in Baltimore and worked in several Italian restaurants in his home state after his graduation.
In the mid-90's, Franco visited Colorado Springs, and fell in love with the area. (There's not much to hate about Colorado Springs - over 320 days of sunny weather, dry and temperate climate, stunning views.) A week after he went back home to Connecticut, he moved to Colorado Springs for good.
Pisani got a job as the food and beverage director when he first moved to Colorado, but hankered to work in an Italian restaurant again. He found a job in a large Italian restaurant and that's where he met future business partner Ted Sexton, also a native New Englander from Boston. In early April of 2003, Sexton and Pisani opened Paravicini's, which translates into "for the neighborhood." In 2007, Sexton and Pisani opened a sister restaurant, La Zingara, just up the road in Palmer City. However, they discovered that trying to run both restaurants was time consuming and they sold La Zingara (now closed) about three years ago.
Paravicini's is located in the Old Colorado City national historic district in Colorado Springs. Colorado City was founded in 1859 as the first settlement in what would eventually become Colorado Springs. Colorado City was incorporated into Colorado Springs in 1917 and it eventually became Old Colorado City, a shopping and entertainment area.
It was around 8 p.m. when we pulled up to Paravicini's Italian Bistro at the corner of W. Colorado Ave. and S. 28th Street. (see map) We found parking on the street next to the restaurant. It was a slow night (the Denver Broncos were on television that evening) and we were only two of a handful of diners in the place.
We were greeted by our server, Charlie, a pleasant woman who showed us to a window seat in the back corner in the main dining area of the restaurant. The restaurant had subdued lighting from can lights that were suspended from a high ceiling. The open kitchen in the back allowed diners to see the flurry of activity going on with Chef Franco and his staff. There were a couple of smaller dining rooms off to the side of the main dining area, including one that paid homage to Frank Sinatra. Music by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Vale and other 50's and 60's Italian crooners played in the background.
Charlie came back over and asked if we wanted something from the bar while we looked through the menu. I ordered a beer - some Colorado pale ale, I don't even remember what it was (I don't care for many of the Colorado beers) - and Cindy looked through Paravicini's wine list. She found a chianti on the "wine by the glass" part of the wine list.
The menu at Paravicini's Italian Bistro would have rivaled the menu at any authentic Italian restaurant I've been to in Boston, New York, Chicago or the Twin Cities. Appetizers included fried calamari, deep fried mozzarella, and an antipasto plate of meats, cheeses and marinated vegetables. Entrees included a plethora of pasta dishes, classic Italian entrees, and Paravicini signature dishes that were conjured up by Chef Franco. Paravicini also had four different styles of New York strip steaks including their eponymous Paravicini New York strip steak that was topped with grilled shrimp and a tomato-basil cream sauce.
When Charlie came back to check on us, she asked if we wanted to start out with any appetizers. We hadn't eaten for quite awhile and Cindy was pretty hungry. She asked if Charlie how big the plate of the fried artichoke hearts were. She replied, "Well, it's more than enough food for two people."
Cindy thought they sounded good and ordered up a plate of the deep fried artichoke hearts. After Charlie put in the order, she came back (she wasn't very busy) and asked if we had any questions. Cindy has recently been in the habit of asking servers, "What do you recommend?"
Charlie said, "You know, our Veal Tuscany is very good. It's probably my favorite on the menu." The Veal Tuscany was under the Paravicini Originals portion of the menu and featured veal scaloppini sauteed with garlic, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, then topped off with a garlic cream sauce.
Cindy said, "I was looking at that on the menu. It was between that or the veal piccata." She went with the Veal Tuscany.
I was sort of torn between a couple things. They had a cheese-filled tortellini with peas and prosciutto in a white cream sauce that sounded good to me. But I was also looking at something called Fettuccini Gabriella - sauteed shrimp and scallops tossed with fettuccine pasta in a light cream sauce with garlic, onions, basil and Roma tomatoes. Charlie said, "The Fettuccinni Gabriella is very good." I went with that.
After we ordered, Charlie brought out the fried artichoke hearts. They were lightly breaded and served with a roasted garlic sauce that didn't have much of a garlic taste. The fried artichokes were good, but there was sort of a bland taste to the breading. They were fine, but I wouldn't order them again if I were to go back.
We both got salads with our meals and it was served family style with a house-made Italian dressing. The assorted greens were very fresh and crisp and the dressing had a nice tangy Italian taste. After eating many of the fried artichoke hearts, we went pretty light on our salad portions. We didn't want to spoil our main entrees any more than we had.
Charlie brought our main entrees to the table. Cindy's Veal Tuscany had an almost golden color to the garlic cream sauce. Large chunks of artichoke hearts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes covered the veal scaloppini. Cindy took a bite and she said, "Oh, my God! This is so good, but it is so rich!" She said she had a winner on her hands.
My Fettuccini Gabriella was visually underwhelming. The scallops - what there were of them - were small and the shrimp were so small that they looked like they came out of a can. The cream sauce was even lighter than light - it was almost runny. The fettuccine noodles were cooked perfectly, however, and the overall taste of it was good. I was a little upset that the seafood was so small and somewhat sparse. If I were to grade my meal, I'd give it a C.
Cindy's Veal Tuscany was an A+. She gave me a couple bites of hers after I complained about mine (she always seems to get the better of the two meals when we try someplace new) and everything - the rich garlic sauce, the tender veal, the soft (but not mushy) artichoke hearts - were all very, very good. She said, "Please eat more because there is no way I can eat all of this. It is so rich!"
After we finished, Charlie came over to see if we'd be interested in any dessert. I didn't think I was, but Cindy said, "What do you have?" Charlie left and came back with a dessert menu. I was thinking of something more along the lines of an after dinner drink. I asked what kind of Scotch they had to offer and she said, "You know, I'll have to go look. A couple of the guys were raving about some Scotch they had the other day. It was new for us. Let me go look to see what it was."
She came back moments later and said, "It was Balvanie Scotch." Oh, yeah! I like the Balvanie. It was a Balvanie 12-year-old single barrel and I ordered that.
They had a number of desserts on the dessert menu, but tiramisu was at the top. Cindy asked if the tiramisu was made in house and Charlie said it was. "The chef's mom was a baker," she said. "It's a family recipe." Cindy ordered the tiramisu with two forks.
And the tiramisu was very good. It was a large piece drizzled with chocolate syrup. The taste was excellent. It was one of the best tiramisu we've ever had. Whatever is in the Pisani family recipe, they need to hold on to that for generations.
As we were taking bites of the tiramisu, we were talking with Charlie about Colorado Springs, the weather and things to see while we were there. She said she had moved out to Colorado Springs from Illinois a number of years ago for health reasons. When I asked where in Illinois she came from, she said, "Galesburg." I told her that we were from the Quad Cities, specifically Davenport, which is 50 miles north of Galesburg. She was amazed that she met someone who knew where her hometown was. We seemed to meet or run into a lot of people who either still lived in, or used to live in or near the Quad Cities when we were out in Colorado.
Charlie was a breast cancer survivor. She said that she moved to Colorado Springs to escape the cold of Western Illinois. "I had lived in Tucson for a few years before moving back home," she told us. "Then I contracted breast cancer and I ended up moving out here on the recommendation of friends and family. The weather is gorgeous nearly every day. With a lot of support, I was able to beat my cancer and I've been cancer free for nearly 9 years." She was actually very interesting to talk to.
After settling up with Charlie for the evening, we took a self-guided tour through the rest of the restaurant. Pictures on the walls in the back dining area and even in the restrooms were interesting to look at. Paravicini's Italian Bistro had a great "old world Italian" vibe to the place.
Even though I was somewhat disappointed in the preparation of my meal, it's easy to see why Paravicini's Italian Bistro continually wins the "Best Italian" category in local polls year after year. The atmosphere was wonderful, the service was very good, and while I wasn't overly enamored with my dish, my wife's Veal Tuscany was outstanding. If in Colorado Springs visiting and you're looking for good Italian food, you probably need to look no further than Paravicini's.