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Friday, November 21, 2014
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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

Restaurant review: Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano ****

If a restaurant could be said to have a disposition, a good word to describe Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano at the new Levis Commons mall in Perrysburg would be "sunny" - as in sunny Tuscany.

That's partly because of the entrance, a rotunda bathed in vivid yellow amid walls of chipped stone. In the chandeliered dining room, splashes of yellow accent the otherwise understated color scheme of terra cotta, tan, and olive green. Light filters through the large windows, and rich pecan woodwork borders the tables and booths.

"Sunny" also describes the spontaneous smiles of those who work there - no frowns or furrowed brows in view, and no blank looks when you ask for specifics about the food.

But the defining feature of Biaggi's is the excellence of the dishes, along with the impeccable presentation - dazzling kaleidoscopes of food in bright sauces on bone-white china.

From tangy black fettuccine strewn with lobster meat and wild mushrooms, to filet mignon and Chilean sea bass in sun-dried tomato and red pepper cream sauces respectively, the entrees are beautifully arranged and delivered to the table with dispatch.

"I could literally lick the plate," one of our dinner companions gushed over her luscious sea bass.

In a metro area practically overrun by Italian restaurants - I count at least 25, not including dozens of pizza parlors - it's worth noting that in the few short weeks since it opened, Biaggi's appears to have staked a claim as one of the area's premier Italian spots, with an ambitious wine list to match.

The restaurant is one of 18 Biaggi's outlets around the country. Based on two recent visits, the food struck me as better - in a few cases, much better - than what might be expected from a national chain, and also easier on the pocketbook.

Meals begin with a basket of breads and olive oil topped with cracked pepper and parmesan cheese. Appetizers, $4 to $8, range from a pound of mussels to carpaccio tradizionale, thin raw tenderloin with herbs, vegetables, and cheese. Fried ravioli ($5.95) comes with spinach, ricotta cheese, and a spicy scallion cream sauce, sauce being an obvious signature of the chef.

The daily soup on one visit combined sausage and white beans. Later, we swooned over the the house specialty, chicken Florentine with spinach, and a startlingly good tomato cream soup with sherry - the essence of tomato, even in early spring.

Salads are meant to be split, as the server will tell you, including the $4.25 house with balsamic dressing and the $7.95 chopped chicken salad with Italian ham, bacon, and gorgonzola cheese, so mountainous that it capsized the plate on which it was served.

In addition to the aforementioned fettuccine and lobster ($13.95), filet mignon ($19.95), and sea bass ($17.95), we also tried the $13.95 chicken alla Emilia, chunks of breast on potato croquettes with asparagus. For lunch one day, spaghetti and meatballs ($9.95), prepared Bolognese style with pork and veal, was too much to eat in one sitting, which meant taking it home in one of the restaurant's boutique-style doggie bags.

As with any Italian restaurant worth its American lineage these days, Biaggi's also serves a variety of good-looking pizzas, sandwiches, and desserts, plus specialty coffees and wine by the glass or bottle. Parking can be a problem if you wind up in the lot behind the restaurant: It presents something of a walk to Biaggi's main entrance, especially in inclement weather.

The proliferation of Italian restaurants is proof enough of local diners' love affair with Italy. There are a few more Italian places just opened or about to in the coming months, so it's anyone's guess how they will stack up against the bistros, trattorias, ristorantes, grilles, and pizza places that already pixelate our landscape. If Biaggi's is any indication, exciting times may lie just ahead.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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