On a windy spring evening I stumbled into M’Tucci’s Italian on the Westside. The lighting was dim in the evening and the richly decorated interior was packed. It’s a watering hole for the baby boomers of the West Side, and I understand why: The service is outstanding, the presentation is gorgeous, and the food is … well, we’ll get to that in a minute.I sought a table for one inside but the restaurant was so crowded—I guess it was a Saturday night—I couldn’t find a table where I could visualize myself being comfortable or being able to enjoy my food in peace. The patio was a pleasant open-seating refuge, though after about 5 or 10 minutes of waiting I was asked to move so a larger party could sit at the table I was occupying. They were very apologetic, and I didn’t really mind as I found a nice, small table on the other side of the patio.After I moved my chair I received my drink, a Pink Rabbit. The cocktail caught my eye because of its inclusion of St. Germain. I love this elderflower liqueur because its correct mixing really shows when a bartender knows what they’re doing. That said, the drink was alright. It was tart from the lemon juice and sweet from the muddled strawberries but I found the Absolut Apeach vodka overwhelmed the other flavors.My appetizers came fairly quickly despite the crowd. I ordered calamari fritti ($10) and the fried Brie ($9). The calamari was exquisite. It was perfectly fried and the actual calamari, legs included, were tender and just mildly elastic with just enough spicy seasoning. The fried Brie was served on a bed of greens with sliced apples and strawberries and served with thick slices of baguette on the side and a pomegranate balsamic vinegar glaze drizzled over everything. Not only was this a better deal than the seafood, it was superior in taste. It contained everything I love with a bread-oriented meal: sour, creamy, melted cheese, sweet and tart fruit and a lil’ somethin’-somethin’ (I mean the salad, keep up with me) to make me not feel like I’m going to go into a lactose-induced shock after I finish the plate because I will finish that plate; don’t you doubt it.For my main-course meals I ordered the grilled fish of the day (market price), which happened to be ono, and a duck sausage pizza. (Those of you who follow me in my culinary adventures may find this suspicious but suffice it to say, I’m working meat back into my diet.) The fish was served on top of an olive and tangy lemon gravy with creamy, buttery grilled polenta (which was honestly my favorite part of this dish), grilled asparagus that wasn’t seasoned whatsoever, and sautéed spinach with minced garlic. The fish was thickly cut and reminded me of badly cooked chicken. The outside was covered in a wonderful simple pepper seasoning, but it was tough to cut through the initial layer and was ultimately—at least inside—flavorless.I asked for the minimal sausage on the duck sausage pizza, and I guess somewhere along the line the that was translated as, “one quarter vegetarian.” The pepperoncini-feta puree topping the pie melted in my mouth delightfully. The crust was fluffy and chewy, but when I met the duck sausage, I must say, I was disappointed. It was entirely saline with a meaty texture. Singularly, I found it too salty and lackluster. Combined with the pizza it was much better, but still unsatisfying.I was excited to have the pane al forno because my best memories of Italy are all virtually just eating. Italian pizza crust is incredibly thin, I’ve had pizza where the crust was basically a cracker and that was absolute perfection. So I found the raised crust mildly disappointing since this restaurant seemed to be aiming for traditional Italian food.To finish my visit, I had the roasted beet salad which was superb. The sweet, tender, roasted beets paired perfectly with the sour crumbles of goat cheese scattered across the plate and with the earthy greens and tart vinaigrette. It was a perfectly satisfying way to end the meal.Throughout my evening on the patio, I watched people steadily filter in and out of the restaurant. Families exited with kids shooting out, couples entered arm in arm. The sun set over M’Tucci’s—blue to pink, pink to purple, purple to dark blue, the only light left coming from the softly lit overhead lights and the small yellow and red lights across the patio. I left quietly to leave these regulars alone with their subjectively wonderful meals.
M’Tucci’s Italian6001 Winter Haven NW, Ste. M505-503-7327Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-9pmVibe: Wealthy Americanized HideawayAlibi recommends: calamari, roasted beet salad, fried Brie