Il Pizzaiolo

By | January 13, 2006

Il Pizzaiolo
703 Washington Rd
Mt Lebanon, PA 15228-2004
Phone: (412) 344-4123
Mon-Thu 12-10; Fri-Sat 12-11; Sun 12-9

Pasta – I could literally eat it every night. After moving to the ‘Burgh, I complained for the first 7 years that there wasn’t a decent Italian pasta place around. I tried Alexander’s Pasta Express, Mariani’s Pleasure Bar, Anna’s Ravioli Board, the place it was before it was Anna’s, Gran Canal Caffe, Pizzuti, Pasta Piatta, Piccolo Forno, Pino’s (both locations), Pi, Lidia’s and others. I am quite serious in saying that none of them can hope to compare to Il Pizzaiolo. Both Girasole and Cucina Flagrea are pretty excellent, and I would always default to either if I wanted to stay in the city, but I’m afraid that if you think you are in utter love with Girasole or Cucina Flagrea, you just haven’t tried Il Pizzaiolo yet. (NOTE: there is also Vivo but it is sort of a special place above and beyond, and since it does not specialize in pasta it is not listed here)

Il Pizzaiolo has about 25 or 30 pasta dishes covering just about the entire range of what you might imagine to be on a pasta menu. They also have phenomenal pizzas, but I haven’t really gotten around to sampling them yet because my last 40 or so visits have been preoccupied with getting the transcendental pasta dishes. Pizzas will have to wait for another review.

All pasta dishes come with a salad or soup and bread. The salad is always good (I read some review online that said the salad was too vinegary – whatev, it is delish) and is comprised of frilly greens, olive, tomato, roasted pepper, and vinaigrette (gorgonzola optional). The soup has been amazing about 90% of the time (any variety), but you have to ASK for it instead of a salad – they do not offer up the option to you. The bread is from Breadworks, and it is just standard, crusty Italian bread – nothing special. It usually does not come with any oil (depends on your waitstaff, or you can ask for it), but you could dip it in your salad vinaigrette leftovers if you are so inclined.

We recently tried the vegetable antipasto which was really good, especially this one unidentifiable vegetable that was tart, chewy, and mushy all at once, tasting vaguely of something used in sushi – excellent. Also especially good were the eggplant bits and the carrots. The entire appetizer was great – suitable for 4 – 6 people.

Now, for the main attraction! The Penne alla Vodka has made its way into my dreams at night, it is that good. The sauce is just wonderful, tart and strangely fruity – it passes the hardest of all tests (that being the “can I figure out what ingredients went into this” test). It is topped with a few pieces of proscuitto, which is a surprisingly delightful accompaniment, adding the perfect amount of saltiness. The first 20 times I went to Il Pizzaiolo, I could ONLY get this, for fear that the earth would explode and I may never be able to have it again.

But finally, I ventured on to try other items. The Rigatoni alla Campagnola is a wide flat tube-y noodle with succulent mini meatballs (obviously freshly made) in a marinara sauce that has ricotta mixed in so that it is almost like a tomato cream sauce. The Gnocchi is superb, not at all gummy, and is in marinara with fresh mozzarella flown in directly from Italy every Wednesday (almost as many mozz bites as there are gnocchi)! The fresh mozzarella is so damn delicious and explosive in its fresh flavor – deserving of a very long savor. People like the Fettucine Bolognese, but truth be told, the best I have ever had was homemade from the recipe in the Best Recipe book, but if you don’t feel like cooking for 8 hours then Il Pizzaiolo is the best place in the city to get this meaty sauce that so few places do well. Also worth getting is the Rigatoni Siciliana (rigatoni, eggplant, fresh mozzerella). A lot of reviewers will say it is their favorite, and I definitely love it a lot and get it frequently, but I never crave it like I do the Penne alla Vodka. Oh man, that stuff is good.

As far as ambiance goes – who cares! Get your ass to this place and eat some damn pasta! It is too good to pass up. But, I will tell you that the main restaurant area is brightly lit and generally very busy. You can see the brick pizza oven and the flames inside are gorgeous if you can take a peek. Also, in the warm months they have a spectacular outdoor seating area with a big tree, strings of lights, a couple of fountains, and plenty of flora (and some fauna too). You must go during the summer just to sit out here.

One last note – this place gets really busy!! There are no reservations, so you better just be ready to possibly wait in the wine bar for 15-45 minutes. No worries though, because the wine bar, although sometimes a bit crowded, has great atmosphere including dark lighting, a medium-sized bar, and a fireplace with a few big cozy chairs surrounding it. In addition, the wine list is long and comprehensive, and seems to just keep on growing. You can get many of the wines by the glass, so you can try a variety. Quite honestly, I’m never that sad to be stuck back there for a while!

Penne alla Vodka: penne in tomato cream sauce with proscuitto
Gnocchi potato: pasta dumplings in marinara with fresh mozz

Don’t Get:
Haven’t had anything bad yet!

If you go back to the wine bar, there are 5 or 6 first-come-first-serve tables that serve the regular menu right now (as of Jan 06). If it is crazy busy in the main restaurant, this is a nice option. The lighting is softer and more romantic, and it has a nice homey feel to it. It probably takes longer because the wait staff are not usually in the building where the wine bar is, except to bring you your food. For some, this may be a detraction significant enough to wait for the main restaurant seating area.

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