Delightful zabaglione

Nov 29, 2000 at 12:00 am
You and I may question whether Windsor needed another Italian restaurant, even a really good one that serves zabaglione. In fact, one could question whether all of North America needed another Italian restaurant, even if it gave zabaglione away.

But chef Rico Bortolin (formerly of the excellent Ristorante Nico) and wife Anastasia Adams had no such petty qualms. Asserting every chef's birthright — to have a restaurant of his own — in May they opened Vivo! (Alive!), and immediately established themselves in the already crowded top tier of sophisticated Italian spots.

Let's start with dessert, which is made in-house. It's rare to find zabaglione on a menu, as it must be prepared just before serving. You whip egg yolks, marsala and sugar over a low flame, to make a warm, foamy, pale-yellow custard. My usually terse food dictionary calls zabaglione "ethereal" and "one of Italy's great gifts to the rest of the world." Made right, as Bortolin does it, the marsala doesn't overwhelm, and you can imagine angels spooning it up for breakfast.

Another house-made dessert is ice cream — raspberry a night I was there — and just as fresh-tasting as can be. (Tiramisu is the third dessert.)

The short menu includes a surprising number of vegetarian options. Only one of the nine first courses (pasta, gnocchi or risotto) includes meat (a bolognese sauce), and it wasn't one of the more successful dishes. The seven second-course choices include one each of lamb, veal, chicken and salmon. The others are stuffed peppers, portabella over peperonata, and chickpea stew over polenta. There's a risotto special that changes daily.

On my first visit, the day after Halloween, I tried the pumpkin risotto, which it now seems obvious was a mistake for me to order and for Vivo to invent. It tasted only of nutmeg. A pumpkin-carrot soup, the soup special that same day, was spicy and not a favorite either. Presumably by the time you read this, pumpkin season will be over and chefs will not feel the need to experiment along those lines.

Three weeks later, on the other hand, a carrot-orange-ginger soup was nutty and very good. The simple house salad improved as well, with a lighter touch on the dressing (and no pumpkin seeds sprinkled on).

The rack of lamb with orange and mango glaze is tender and sweet, with the ribs standing up like sentinels among the excellent charred vegetables and cold black bean salad. Linguini pescatori creates a sharp white wine tomato sauce for calamari, shrimp and scallops. The sea flavors meld flawlessly with the sauce while retaining their separate charms.

Pollo al Chianti uses red wine and red pesto to make a superb sauce. Again, attention is paid to the vegetables, thin-sliced carrots, zucchini and green pepper.

Penne with pesto is not the usual basil but a blush sauce with asparagus, red onions and sun-dried tomatoes. This one is rich and winy.

These imaginative dishes are enjoyed in a simple but elegant white-tablecloth setting: 14 tables with fresh flowers in stainless steel vases, Ottmar Liebert to listen to, black-and-white photos of Italy, and peach (or is that pumpkin?) walls that sing "Mediterranean!"

New World and Old World wines are served.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].