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Villaggio becomes an instant favorite

677 Hooksett Road, Manchester NH

If you've already tried the new Italian restaurant in Manchester's North End, you probably have a good idea of what's to come.

If you haven't, we're here to tell you that Villaggio is the real deal.

Atmosphere 18/20

Our Gourmet: Settle in to Villaggio's comfy confines and let the rich aromas of garlic, wine, cheese, olive oil, bread, sauce and seafood combine to infuse your senses. Notice the double-cloth table settings, the intimate setting of only 15 tables, the sparkle of glass and silverware, low lighting and subtle candlesconce trim. Then take a quick peek at the meals on fellow diners' plates, and send a signal to your taste buds that this is gonna be good. 9/10

The Dining Companion: We arrived a little early for a recent Saturday night dinner reservation and were treated to half an hour in Villaggio's well-appointed, intimate cocktail lounge. We were greeted by a super friendly hostess, waitstaff and bartender.

An early glass of vino selected from a small-butsmart wine list set the mood, and as we perused the menu we noticed our lounge companions had dinner in full swing. Their meals looked superbly delicious, a fast and promising introduction to our new favorite Italian restaurant in the Queen City — in a most unlikely location: a former KFC. 9/10

Menu 19/20

OG: If you decide quickly what to eat at Villaggio (Italian for village) you have not read the menu closely. But then, if you read the menu closely, you may never decide, because each dish sounds better than the previous one. So take your time. Have a glass of wine, and start with an authentic Italian appetizer while you re-read the menu. Then make your best choice among seafood, veal, chicken, steak, homemade pasta dishes, warm and cold antipasti, soup and salads. Nearly every dinner entree is under $20, and most are right around $15. On the lunch menu, which offers “classic Italian recipes” until 3 p.m. daily, every entree is under $10 except one, and all come with soup or salad and homemade bread.

There is no pizza, and OG thinks that is a splendid idea. 10/10

TDC: Oh my gosh! If reading a menu can make you gain weight, Villaggio will sink you. From the menu: Malanzana Rollatini ($7.95, an appetizer), pan-fried eggplant stuffed with four cheeses, Italian herbs and topped with marinara; appetizer Capesanta alla Griglia ($10.95), grilled marinated scallops served over sauteed spinach; three fine sounding Italian soups (all $3.95), plus a same-price Greek-style egglemon soup with chicken, rice and carrots; pasta dinners with homemade angel hair or fettuccine ($13.95) with your choice of one of seven mouthwatering sauces; all kinds of parmigiana; manicotti; gnocchi; pork tenderloin; 12- or 24-ounce ribeye steaks; and seven specialty seafood dinners with seemingly endless combinations of fish and sauces and accompaniments. Like I said, OMG! 9/10

Appetizer 18/20

OG: We knew we'd be here for awhile, and we knew we'd be full afterward, so we shared what I thought would be a standard plate of cold Italian antipasto. Wrong. It was superb. Delectably prepared and thoughtfully presented, with bread and herb-infused olive oil, of course, the Antipasto Italiano ($10.95 for two; $13.95 for four) was easily the best I have ever had at a Manchester area Italian restaurant. Prosciutto di parma, salami sopressata, asiago and provolone cheese, homemade mozzarella, grilled and marinated eggplant and homemade stuffed mozzarella. There was just enough for two.

The only items missing were pepperoncini and an olive or two, but who cares when there is such deli­cately rolled meat, expertly sliced triangular wedges of cheese, flat rolled stuffed mozzarella, a small heap of super-thin marinated eggplant .... I could go on. All of it delicious! 18/20

Entrees 17/20

OG: Choosing from Villaggio's menu is like winning a spectacular football game — whoever has the ball last is going to win. So when it was ordering time my last affection from the printed menu became my dinner: Linguine ai Frutti di Mare ($23.95), a hearty plate of seafood, surrounding a hefty helping of steaming hot linguine sauteed in garlic, white wine and marinara. Next time I might ask the kitchen to skip the marinara, but the mussels go so well with marinara, and the calamari, too ... but the clams, scallops, shrimp and half-lobster tail would be fine without the red sauce ... but it was delicious with it, too. See what I mean? 8/10

TDC: Ravioli all Aragosta ($17.95) is a simple dish but, oh, so rich and delicious! Homemade ravioli filled with lobster meat and cheeses, topped with sundried tomato cream sauce and a half-lobster tail. Plenty of sauce to cover a filling meal of three large ravioli and a good-sized, in-theshell lobster tail, lightly sprinkled with parmesan cheese and Italian herbs. I shared a bite with OG — just one, and reluctantly.

Boston's North End has nothing on Villaggio. 9/10

All the Rest; 18/20

OG: Did we mention the specials? No. The veal or chicken dishes? Hardly. The soups? Yes, but not the Minestrone, Pasta e Fagioli or Italian Wedding Soup. The Bruschetta? No (OK, it's in the same hemisphere as pizza).

The Cannolis, Tiramisu, Baklava, homemade sausages, Greek salad, caesar salad or spinach salad? No. There is not enough space on this page. Go to the North End (Manchester's) and “discover” Villaggio on your own. And tell them we sent you. 9/10

TDC: Our hostess and server were about the friendliest we've yet encountered on a review excursion. Our hostess charmingly described all of her favorite dishes from the lunch and dinner menus, and had we not been otherwise enthralled we probably would have tried one. Next time. Or the time after that, perhaps. Life is too short not to partake of simple, but significant pleasures. Villaggio is one of those pleasures, and we're lucky to have it right here in the Queen City. A very good value, too. Our bill came to under $60, excluding wine and gratuity. All in all, Villaggio puts a delightful new spin on the rollicking phrase, “Everybody Mangia!” 9/10

Total 90/100

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