Our Gourmet: Luscious Italian dining at Villaggio

November 29. 2017 12:43AM
Capellini Primavera at Villagio in Manchester 
677 Hooksett Road, Manchester; 627-2424; www.villaggionh.com

Monday-Thursday, 4-9 p.m.; Friday, 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.

Cuisine: Classic Italian.

Pricing: Appetizers, $8.99-$16.99; salads, $14.99-$17.99; entrees, $17.99-$35.99.

Scores for Villaggio
Atmosphere: 19/20
Menu: 19/20
Food: 19/20
Service: 19/20
Value: 18/20
TOTAL: 94/100

A Thanksgiving weekend filled with a big turkey dinner, followed by days of hot turkey sandwiches, cold turkey sandwiches, pie and more pie left us ready for something different by Sunday night. Italian sounded good.

Digging through the archives, we discovered Our Gourmet hadn’t visited Villaggio since 2012, shortly after it opened in a strip mall in north Manchester just before the DW Highway heads into Hooksett and the hinterlands beyond.

Our Gourmet loved Villaggio then. We love Villaggio now.

The restaurant brings a bit of relaxed elegance to its little plaza, which includes Chinese takeout, pizza, sandwich and convenience stores. Beige and brown dominate the dining space, with Italian scenes adorning the walls around 25 or so tables. A small bar is behind the hostess station as you enter. Without reservations at the end of the holiday weekend, we were given a cozy corner table for three.

Villaggio offers pastas and other classic Italian fare, including a good selection of fish dishes

The Fussbudget (FB) was delighted when our server delivered a loaf of warm, crusty Italian bread, but was not delighted by the garlicky oil she brought for dipping. He bravely requested butter. When she brought it, he dug right in.

The Dining Companion (DC) started with Bruschetta Napoli ($9.99), three toasted slices of Italian bread topped with a mound of delicately diced tomato and garlic, flecked with minced basil. She savored the fresh toppings with a glass of Chianti ($7.50), but only got to enjoy two of the pieces, as the FB finagled one off her plate and devoured it.

Our Gourmet was in a “special mood,” opting for both an appetizer and entrée from the list of specials. Beef ravioli ($14) came three to the plate, each pillow of fresh pasta filled with tiny bits of braised short rib, whipped into a tantalizing cream with several cheeses, and topped with a rich Marsalla sauce loaded with fresh mushroom. A tinge of sage and a tang from the sauce’s wine lifted this dish to exemplary.

Our adult dinners came with salad. The DC opted for a garden salad, which she said was anything but standard. It was so fresh and clean she declared it didn’t need dressing and that’s just the way she ate it. OG opted to upgrade, ordering a half Caprese ($1.95) instead, a wise choice, well worth it. Three discs of tomato so fresh they were crisp were served nestled on a bed of delicate baby greens, each topped with soft, mild, fresh mozzarella, minced basil, a drizzle of oil and dusted with parmesan. Small dabs of balsamic reduction artfully surrounded the stars of this show and complemented the salad perfectly.

We feared the Fussbudget would be full before his Spaghetti and Meatball ($8) arrived, and we were right. His spaghetti, topped with a flavorful marinara, went untouched. He did devour the entire meatball, which was the size of OG’s fist. That’s a win in our book.

The DC’s Capellini Primavera ($17.99) seemed equally ambitious, but she dug right in. Strands of thin pasta were lightly coated in oil, buried below a mound of crisp, gleaming sautéed vegetables including carrot, broccoli, green beans, mushrooms and strips of bright red pepper. The pasta reminded her of her grandmother’s, and though it took a while, she was the only one to finish her entire meal.

Had OG listened more closely to the specials, and heard that our stuffed pork tenderloin ($34) was served with the same marsala sauce as our ravioli, we might have opted for a different entrée — and that would have been a terrible mistake.

The amazing dinner beneath the sauce was worth the redundancy. A small pork tenderloin had been butterflied, stuffed with prosciutto and fontina cheese, rolled, cooked to just barely medium and cut on the bias. The pork was fork-tender and oozed gobs of cheese. Though the prosciutto’s salty goodness was lost in the shuffle, this was a rich, decadent, deeply satisfying meal — like velvet on the tongue. Sides of parmesan risotto and sautéed vegetables were perfectly prepared but superfluous to the star of this show.

We all agreed we were stuffed, but we changed our mind when a dessert tray was brought by. The DC and FB shared a thick slice of Triple Fudge Cake ($7.50). The moist chocolate cake was layered with chocolate ganache and frosted with a fudgy icing. OG got nowhere near it as they polished it off.

Instead, we had our own slice of a superb raspberry-chocolate cheesecake. The plate came artfully decorated with crisscrosses of chocolate and raspberry syrup below the sweet, dense cheesecake, which was crusted with chocolate cookie crumbs and carried light raspberry swirls. Whipped cream topped the dessert but was unnecessary, adding nothing but height to this delicious dessert.

There’s no doubt Villaggio is a little more expensive than some other Manchester restaurants, but its quiet elegance, its attention to detail and its creativity in the kitchen make it well worth it. And, if you want a night in? Shhh: They do takeout, too.

Our GourmetManchester

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