Il Capo Pizzeria in Scottsdale opens with a menu of pizza and pasta and friendly service
Longtime Valley restaurateurs Angela and Mario Rana, owners of Angela’s Kitchen in Surprise, have headed east for their newest venture, a pizzeria in a Scottsdale spot where Gelato Spot used to dish up cool treats.
Suffice it to say some remodeling had to take place before Il Capo Pizzeria opened in March, such as swapping freezer cases for a work-of-art wood-fired Italian pizza oven covered in robin’s-egg-blue tile. It’s worth looking at while you wait for your order. You can also scan the array of hefty calzones and pizzas that wait to be served by the slice.
Scene: This unassuming pizzeria (so unassuming it’s difficult to find the front door and you might find yourself popping into nearby Pita Jungle instead) with its friendly service, well-prepared dishes and seemingly happy employees, is ironically a few doors down from the notorious Amy’s Baking Company, the surly star of TV’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” As we parked to go into Il Capo, we couldn’t help noticing a dearth of customers at Amy’s while the pizzeria had a good crowd and no one was screaming at the staff. Niceness: what a concept.
Choose a banquette or table and take in the Italian music playing softly in the background. Another good concept: You and your companions will be able to hear your conversation.
Food: Highlights of the menu are hand-pulled mozzarella, hearth-baked bread, charcuterie made in house and some housemade pastas.
Beginning an Italian meal with bruschetta ($6.95) is always a good idea, if not so revolutionary. Here, it comes as three toasted boats of house-made baguette loaded with traditional cargo of diced tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil, then presented in a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The bread is nice and chewy though still crunchy, not so hard it shreds the roof of your mouth.
Salad lovers will savor the delightful apple and arugula salad ($6.95), a mound of greens under a teepee of julienned apple, slivers of pecorino cheese and walnuts in a creamy dressing of honey-shallot vinaigrette that adds just a touch of sweetness.
The blue-mosaic-tiled pizza oven gets a call to duty for such wood-fired pizzas as the Capricciosa covered in prosciutto cotto, artichoke hearts, black olives, mushrooms, daubs of melted mozzarella and an intensely flavored tomato sauce ($12.95). The crust is so thin it cooks in minutes in that blast furnace. Happily, the prosciutto is abundant. I’d like to see more robust artichoke chunks instead of the little bits that might have been cut by a toddler with blunt-edged scissors, but the investment in the oven was well worth it.
If you’re going to try a pasta, dig into the fettucini carbonara ($10.95), ribbons of noodles bathed in a velvety garlic Parmesan sauce dotted with pancetta and peas. I think we moaned a little over this one. The chef could drop an egg yolk on top, but it’s luscious just the way it is.
Not so luscious are the mussels ($12.95), a pound of bivalves in a pool of white wine and garlic broth with tomatoes. My personal preference is to omit the tomatoes and opt for simply the wine and garlic bath, but the flavor was fine. It’s the texture that loses points, with the meat inside a little on the dry side instead of that nice chew that stops just short of rubbery. I was also surprised that these aren’t automatically served with bread, an absolutely vital component for soaking up whatever broth they’re in. We asked for bread and got three little slices that left much of the broth unabsorbed.
Desserts: Il Capo has quite an array of sweets, made in house. Tiramisu ($5) is traditional, thank goodness — too many restaurants radicalize it or totally soak it in liqueur for maximum sogginess. This is a square of soft, fluffy layers well balanced between liqueur, cake, buttercream and chocolate dust.
The apple pie ($6) sounded intriguing; I think children would like it, but we weren’t completely sold. The wood-fired oven is pressed into service again for a pizza-like pie made of pizza crust filled with sliced-apple filling. Wedges are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a zig-zag of caramel sauce. It’s all right, but some of the apples could be more tender, and the pizza crust is a bit too savory for this pie. Next time I’ll try the creme brulee.
Drinks: Il Capo has a good list of Italian wines as well as two labels from Arizona. Beer is on tap (including local Four Peaks and SanTan), in bottles and in cans. A delightful category is “Bubb’linos” — prosecco wine coolers made with pureed fruit such as strawberry-kiwi and cherry-lime.
Lowdown: Angela and Mario have found another niche with their solid menu of Italian favorites. Il Capo is the kind of neighborhood place that will keep customers coming back, maybe after a movie at the nearby theater or just to share a pizza or a bowl of that fettuccine with a glass of vino. Many are sad to see the Gelato Spot go, but should be glad to welcome a new pizza venue.
Stars: 3.5 (out of 5) stars, based on food, service and ambience.
Details: Open 11 a.m. daily. Closing times vary according to crowds and nearby theater times; open at least until 9 p.m. 7366 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale. 480-951-0077. ilcapoaz.com.