Both Il Primo and Il Piccolino are listed in
the 2001 Dining Guide by the Ottawa Citizen. Scroll to the italian section
"Best Service - Honourable Mention" Epicurean Awards (2001)
October 2001 review in Ottawa Citizen
[October 2001 review]
Good Italian, solid value
A tasty newcomer to the Preston Street strip
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, October 20, 2001
Il Primo is the offspring of Il Piccolino, both east-side Preston Street restaurants within walking distance of each other and both owned by Adriana and Craig Pedersen. Il Primo opened on June 2, although the final nails of its impressive three-level wrap-around deck were only just driven in.
The patio is now ready for business -- just in time for those balmy October days ...
We sat inside.
I remembered this Preston Street space from its days when it housed FusAsia -- a here-and-gone restaurant I reviewed last summer.
The Pedersens have re-decorated, which was rather de rigueur-ish given that FusAsia was a mostly Thai eatery. Dark paneling and rich Mediterranean colours now dominate the L-shaped interior. There's a small, attractive bar area with a half-dozen stools. The floors are ceramic, the walls (those that aren't wood) are pale caramel with salmon, blue and yellow trim.
Without the benefit of moody lighting, the room seemed more ordinary at a noon meal. But at supper hour, the soft spot and candle lighting created an inviting intimacy.
After a run of new, chic, happening eateries I've visited of late, this one was refreshing for its frankness of purpose. Il Primo is not a restaurant that's shaking up the city's dining-out scene with any wow-ish architectural brilliance. There's no tricksy fusion-cooking happening here. And it's not a restaurant for which you would necessarily cross town.
Il Primo, like its big sister Il Piccolino, is an Italian restaurant for the neighbourhood offering tasty, fresh food, civilized service and value for the dining-out dollar. Il Piccolino is the more casual of the two (offering mainly pasta and pizza). Il Primo has the white linen. And nothing is baked on a crust.
A carafe of water was left on the table. The white wine arrived with a cooler. The bread was passed often. The service we received was kind and attentive. (He was unable to handle all our questions about the menu, but sought answers from the kitchen.)
And what was brought from the kitchen was mostly very good.
For those for whom a good Caesar salad is critical, I'll report that this one featured fresh romaine, a lively dressing, garlic-rubbed croutons and good Parmesan. But I enjoyed the spinach salad even more -- the leaves layered with marinated artichokes, softened dried apricots and chunks of Cambozola cheese, the lot anointed with a warm balsamic-sesame oil vinaigrette. From the soup section, the carota was wonderful -- a rich bowl of puréed, roasted carrot into which chunks of Cambozola cheese were meltingly good.
At lunch we loved the Italian sandwich served on foccacia bread, long strips of well-roasted eggplant and zucchini spread with pesto and topped with smoked mozzarella. The flavours of the roasted vegetables with the smoky cheese were grand.
Olives, capers and garlic dominated the piquant tomato sauce that bathed the plump Primo mussels. Another pleasurable starter was the rotelle, prosciutto rolled around boccconcini cheese and figs, warmed in an Alfredo sauce strong of garlic. The one that failed to impress was the polenta with cheese -- the browned cornmeal was dry, bland, covered with petrified provolone.
A more-than-decent farfalle from the pasta section featured firm bow-ties coated in a rich pesto of oil, basil, almonds and lemon zest, mingled with strips of red and green peppers and properly grilled, moist shrimp. Less exciting was the manicotti: It suffered from a rawness of dough, although the dish was rescued somewhat by a tasty stuffing of spinach, portabellos, roasted red pepper and a fine Alfredo sauce.
Of the main dishes, we were talked into the special. It was pork tenderloin, sliced and pounded and then overdone and dry, but in a fine sauce of reduced pork juices, balsamic vinaigrette, perfumed with fresh basil. It came with risotto, ever-so-slightly underdone, cooked in a full-bodied Italian red wine and enriched with Parmesan.
My notes mention a very good vanilla ice cream. It must have come with the apple cake, which was moist but served too cold.
And while the dessert crêpe of ricotta cheese with berries benefited from the sweetness of the crème anglaise it came with, the chocolate amaretto cheesecake was clearly the winner. It was positively dreamy. Ditto for the strong espresso.
With dinner we drank an Italian Pinot Grigio from a thoughtfully assembled, user-friendly wine list remarkable (given this is an Italian restaurant) for its international focus. (While the Italian section of the list was the longest, Canada, Australia, France and California each got a piece of it.)
We paid about $80 for two to wine and dine at the new Il Primo.
© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen