Last Friday night, our friends Moody and Catherine suggested we try a neighborhood Italian place they had heard about through another friend. I'd been in the mood for Italian lately, so it sounded like a good idea. As a rule, I find the choices for Italian sorely lacking in Phoenix, with Va Bene being the notable exception, so I was excited to give Amano a shot.
The restaurant is in an unlikely spot, near 16th Street and Baseline Road in South Phoenix. Unlike the majority of Phoenix restaurants, Amano is not located in yet another suburban strip mall. Instead, it's a proper stand alone place, albeit one that looks as if it's built out of Legos. Exterior aesthetics aside, once inside the cozy charm of the place takes hold.
We started the evening with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, the name of which escapes me. We were all pretty hungry, so we put in for an order of the antipasto while we listened to the daily specials and perused the menu.
The menu consisted of a nice mix of appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and entrees. Absent were the typical dishes most people associate with Italian cuisine, which I found a relief from the usual corporate chain schlock passing for Italian in this city. For Pere and I, Friday tends to be pizza night, where we often end up making our own from scratch. Not feeling like a break from tradition, we both ordered pizzas. Pere ordered a spinach pizza while I ordered the Italian sausage, caramelized fennel and roasted red pepper pizza with fontina cheese. Catherine went with the shrimp and risotto dish while Moody chose the honey glazed chicken.
It only took a few minutes for the antipasto to arrive. It was a nicely arranged and presented plate of Italian meats and cheeses as well as artichokes, mixed olives, tuna nicoise, marinated soy beans, marinated carrots, and purple potatoes. Everything was delicious, and we quickly devoured the entire plate.
There was a nice break between when we finished the antipasto and when our meals arrived. In the meantime, our waitress brought out a complimentary plate of bruschetta. Moody asked if ti was because the kitchen was taking so long to which she replied it was. He then remarked, and I agree, that it was a nice amount of time that had passed - just enough that you don't feel like they are rushing you out of the place, yet no so much time that you feel neglected.
When the meals arrived, everything looked great. My pizza was very good. The crust was of average thickness, with a generous helping of toppings and cheese. The caramelized fennel and Italian sausage went very well together.
I didn't get a chance to taste Pere's pizza, but I can say that Moody's chicken was also very nice as was Catherine's risotto and shrimp. Amano seems to do justice as a neighborhood Italian. So much so that I found myself thinking about what I was going to order on my next visit.
We ended the meal by splitting three desserts, a creme brulee, tiramisu, and a piece of chocolate cake. All three were very good, with the creme brulee having a nice crispy (not burned) shell. The tiramisu was also noteworthy in that it didn't have the bitter taste and sogginess from the espresso I've encountered in countless versions.
All in all, I think Amano is definitely my favorite "every day" Italian, and I'm looking forward to another visit soon.