ITALIAN 

Al di La
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
West Ashley. 25 Magnolia Dr. 571-2321
Dinner
The greatest thing about Al di La is that it so generously overdelivers on its promises. The modest but warm and inviting dining room, the giant chalkboard that features a moderately-priced wine list scrawled on it along with a daily 'Italian Lesson,' and the bustling new bacaro next door create the perfect setting for John Marshall's interpretation of Northern Italian favorites. The restaurant side still dishes up goodies such as the shoelace-shaped pasta Stracciatella Spoletina from Charleston's sisterfestival city Spoleto, and the best fettucine Bolognese I've ever tasted. The wine bar sports a spiffy new wood-burning oven from which issues forth most excellent pizzette, and the cheese plate is not to be missed. Naturally, the wine list is a treat from start to finish. The best part of Al di La is that Chef Marshall simply "gets it" -- and it shines through at every second in this little trattoria.

Capriccio Restaurant
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 1034 Chuck Dawley Blvd. 881-5550
Dinner
Capriccio is simply fun. The Italian food is basic enough, but still delicious, and the rows of booths in the smallish Mt. Pleasant restaurant provide a place to have a conversation and allow just enough noise to make dining here fun. The whole experience is underpinned by the classic French consistency of the owner, so you can depend on a good dinner every time. Salads, pastas, and good mussels are always available.

Cintra
Italian
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 16 N. Market St. 377-1090
Dinner
The first issue of Dish in January 2005 picked Union Hall as one of our top restaurants. Two weeks later, the restaurant closed and reopened as Cintra. Fortunately, they kept the thing that made it a favorite: Chef Jacques Larson. As this issue of Dish was being put together, Cintra announced that Larson had moved on to New York City to work in the kitchen of the acclaimed Lupa. Hopefully, new Chef Brian Parkhurst will keep some parts of Larson's creative and delicious menu, because we really love the pappardelle Bolognese and sweetbread and lobster gnocchi.

Fulton Five
Italian
Entrées $20 and up
Downtown. 5 Fulton St. 853-5555
Dinner
Fulton Five is a stalwart member of the old Charleston restaurant society. It's been tucked away in its romantic little alley for years, serving excellent soup, risotto, ravioli, and other northern Italian-influenced dishes to star-crossed lovers, impressed tourists, and groups of gluttonous foodies. The Brasciole appetizer is delicious, as is any incarnation of the day's risotto. The tiny bar feels European and is as sexy as the rest of the restaurant -- a perfect spot to impress a date.

Gennaro's Italian Restaurant
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
N. Charleston. 8500 Dorchester Road. 760-9875
Dinner
Gennaro's is the classic spaghetti and meatballs Italian restaurant. It's located way, way out in North Charleston but is worth the trip for a '60s-style, dark-paneled dining room that is crammed with early-bird families, and the menu of picattas, marsalas, lasagna, spaghetti side dishes, and simple salads is reasonably priced and reliably satisfying.

Il Cortile del Re
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Downtown. 193-A King St. 853-1888
Dinner
Il Cortile del Re is clearly in the running for 'most romantic' dining spot in Charleston, if not in the entire Lowcountry. The courtyard is surrounded by stone walls and ivy, and the waiters, with European accents that add to the movie-like quality of the restaurant, serve flawless upscale Italian food. The tables and wine bar in front are a perfect setting for happy hour and dinner with friends. Excellent mussels, carpaccio, and pastas comprise a menu that can satisfy for an evening snack or a full-on dinner.

Pane e Vino
Italian
Entrées $5-10
Downtown. 17 Warren St. 853-5955
Lunch and Dinner
Massimiliano strikes again -- the force behind Il Cortile del Re teams up with his new bride, and the result is a very pleasant spot for some serious food. Housed in the space formerly occupied by Zuppa and, most recently, 17 Warren, Massimiliano Sarrochi and his wife Natasha turn out pretty plates of high-quality grub. The white bean soup is not to be missed, and the prosciutto and 'funghi' sandwich is a winner as well. Daily specials and reasonable wines combine with a large outdoor patio to make you want to spend your whole afternoon on lunch.

The Red Pepper
Italian
Entrées $10-15
Summerville. 709 N. Main St. 873-8600
Lunch and Dinner
Another nice surprise in Summerville, the Red Pepper is a family-owned and operated Italian restaurant that serves up generous portions of hearty, tasty southern Italian fare in a couple of nicely-dressed dining rooms. We love the oysters Rockefeller, strip steak in pizziola sauce, and the spaghetti with sausages. Service is pleasant and personal, and the front patio is a joy most months of the year. There's pizza, too.

Sette
Italian
Entrées $10-$15
Mt. Pleasant. 201 Coleman Blvd. 388-8808
Dinner
Sal Parco of Boulevard Diner and the Mustard Seed strikes again, keeping his humble promises in Italian this time around. He took over the haunted location on Coleman Boulevard and turned it into a pleasant place to eat. So pleasant, in fact, that you can almost forget you are in a former Pizza Hut. It's a little loud at times, but worth yelling to the friendly, intelligent service staff for truly delicious, approachable pastas and salads at Parco's typically bargain-basement prices.

click to enlarge Sienna
  • Sienna

Sienna
Italian
Entrées $15-$20
Daniel Island. 901 Island Park Dr. 881-9211
Dinner
Sienna is Chef Ken Vedrinski's new home after his long, successful stretch at The Dining Room at Woodlands, and the food is as superb as ever. The atmosphere, however, is radically different and much more dynamic than the fairly staid but utterly gracious Woodlands. Vedrinski's style is focused on the Italian approach, with dishes like a fun fritto misto appetizer and separate menu sections for rice and pasta and secondi, but the food on the ever-changing menu is consistently delicious, particularly the mezzaluna 'half moon' pasta.


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