On the southwest edge of Fort Worth, on the banks of the Trinity River, there's a new mixed-use development with a shiny Whole Foods Market, a Sur La Table, an Amazing Lash Studio, an REI store and more. Just past Taco Diner, happy-looking children and their parents stroll by or loll about, enjoying their peachy-pink or pale green Steel City Pops on a patio in the shade of a sprawling live oak tree. On the far side, a film plays on a large movie screen in a pavilion with lounge seating, just a hop, skip and a jump from the tidy rows of apartments beyond the bocce court.
You get the pleasant picture. We could be in any affluent suburb, anywhere.
But this development, called Waterside – nearly 7 miles from Sundance Square and 5 1/2 miles from the Kimbell Art Museum – has something special, something hard to find even 40 miles away, in Dallas: a terrific Italian restaurant.
I don't mean old-school, red-sauce, hiding in neighborhoods hither and yon terrific; I mean modern, octopus-and-favas kind of terrific. Handmade strozzapreti cacio e pepe kind of terrific.
Welcome to Piattello Italian Kitchen. Not a big-deal sceney restaurant, Piattello is a laid-back, easygoing, family-friendly pasta and pizza place.
With so much happening on the Dallas dining scene at the moment, you might wonder what drew me to review a casual spot on the far edge of Fort Worth.
First, the talent involved: chef-owner Marcus Paslay (who also owns Clay Pigeon) and executive chef Scott Lewis. Lewis, who got his start working for chef Julian Barsotti as a line cook at Nonna – one of the best Italian restaurants in Dallas – helped Barsotti open Carbone's Fine Food and Wine as sous-chef, where he stayed until Barsotti debuted Sprezza, his Roman restaurant, last year. At Sprezza, which earned four stars in a review and a spot on my list of the Best in DFW new restaurants of 2016, Lewis was opening co-chef (with Ryan Ferguson). So Lewis has held important positions in three of Dallas' four top Italian restaurants (the other is Lucia).
Second, the menu: Albeit brief, everything on Piattello's sounds delicious, which is a rare thing. It took just one quick look to understand that whoever was behind this place has seriously good taste.
That's why three friends and I found ourselves sipping glasses of Sardinian vermentino and nibbling arancini – risotto balls filled with melty fontina cheese – at a table on Piattello's patio on a recent Saturday evening. Sure, the refined caponata the arancini sat on could have used a touch more acid (lemon or vinegar); still, those arancini were excellent. Asparagus Milanese wanted a dash of acid, too, but the spears, topped with a quartered six-minute egg and grated pecorino, were perfectly roasted.
Better yet, fresh fava beans, tender octopus, sliced radishes, leaves of celery and frisée communed with green Castelvetrano olives and thin bands of Fresno chile in a salady antipasto snuggled into a pad of saffron aioli; the wonderful dish reminded me of an octopus salad I loved at Sprezza. Not in the mood for octopus? Go for plush Duroc pork meatballs. The trio came in a marinara so delicious I scraped up every drop with a spoon.
The focal point of the spacious, casual dining room is a pizza bar, facing a wood-burning pizza oven. Children who nab seats there are treated not just to the show of pies going into the blazing hot chamber, but also to balls of dough to roll out and play with. How sweet is that?
The pies that come out of that oven, with their medium-weight, nicely charred crusts, are compelling. I especially enjoyed a primavera number – springlike indeed, topped with house-made ricotta, asparagus, spring onions, fontina and rosemary. It'll be fun to see how the ingredients change throughout the menu as the seasons do.
If I liked the pizza, I loved the pasta. Most recently, there were tender, luscious cappelletti ("little hats"), filled with fresh corn purée and bathed in a buttery sauce with blue crab, corn kernels and tarragon. Strozzapreti cacio e pepe – cheese and pepper – stayed faithful to the spirit of the classic, and the bologonese cloaking tagliatelle had plenty of deep-flavored soul. In each case the pastas – all of them handmade – had beautiful texture. My favorite? Fusille e agnello – corkscrew-shaped pasta with lamb sausage, peas, green garlic, spring onions and radicchio, flamed with brandy and finished with cream. I could almost be tempted to drive to Fort Worth just for that.
Though there are four secondi – main courses – on the menu, I didn't see many tables ordering them. Nor did they particularly impress. Quail cacciatore served over gnocchi alla romana (puck-size Roman-style semolina cakes) was more like a chunky sauce than a stew. Nothing wrong with it; it just didn't have the sure focus of the pasta dishes. And the daily fish, halibut, was nicely cooked, but its delicate flavor – along with the spring onion, artichoke, roasted fennel and pistachio that sounded so lovely and springlike on the menu – disappeared under too much tomato-heavy sauce.
The desserts, meanwhile, made up for it: a tiramisu-and-panna-cotta layered parfait-type affair; admirable cannoli filled with a sweet version of that house-made ricotta; a sophisticated torta cioccolato (flourless chocolate cake) set on a squiggle of whey caramel and topped with toasted, crushed hazelnuts. Created by co-pastry chefs Bria Downey and Jen Williams, they were all on point. Best of show: their bright-flavored strawberry-rhubarb crostata with a supple yet tender, buttery crust. Garnished with a dollop of whipped cream, a bit of orange zest and a few dill sprigs, it was a knockout.
Before you jump in the car and head west, if Dallas is your home, consider this. While I would happily eat at Piattello any day of the week, I probably wouldn't drive 40 miles just to dine there. Combined with a museum visit or concert? Totally worth it. Or hey – maybe you live there.
If so, tell your friends that your hometown has an Italian spot to rival some of the best in Dallas.
Piattello Italian Kitchen (3 stars)
Price: $$$ (Antipasti, soup and salads $5 to $14. Lunch pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and secondi $12 to $20. Dinner pastas, pizzas and secondi $15 to $24. Brunch pastas, pizzas and other dishes $12 to $20. Desserts $8 to $10.)
Service: Friendly, relaxed, efficient.
Ambience: The large dining room, with an open kitchen and seven-seat pizza bar, has a lot of hard edges and angles (and basic wooden chairs). It's cheerful enough, but not particularly warm or inviting. The patio, on the other hand, is lovely.
Noise level: Despite the dining room's hard surfaces, it wasn't too noisy.
Location: Piattello Italian Kitchen, 5924 Convair Drive, Fort Worth; 817-349-0484
Hours: Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Brunch served Saturday-Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Most recent health department inspection score: Five demerits (April 24, 2017)
Alcohol: Full bar, with decent cocktails and a thoughtful selection of after-dinner drinks. A one-page wine list, with selections from $40 to $150 per bottle -- and plenty of appealing reds at $50 and under -- offers mostly Italian vintages. There's also a small list of wines from a featured winery each month.
5 stars: Extraordinary (Defines fine dining in the region)
4 stars: Excellent (One of the finest restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth)
3 stars: Very good (A destination restaurant for this type of dining)
2 stars: Good (Commendable effort, but experience can be uneven)
1 star: Fair (Experience is generally disappointing)
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50