Piazza Rialto is an interesting find in west Orange County. The restaurant is nicely designed with a large main dining room centered around a bar. The room is voluminous yet it has cozy, intimate niches.
The décor has a casual elegance vibe that makes it destination for date night or family supper. And the spacious outside patio is a nice place to sit in late spring.
Our hostess took us to a table in the main room without asking if we wanted to eat inside or out, but was gracious when we asked to move to the terrace.
Highlights of the menu include the caprese ($9.50) appetizer, a plate of thick-cut, house-made mozzarella and vine-ripened tomatoes. The presentation was drizzled with a fruity extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes were full flavored and the cheese delightfully creamy.
The linguine alle vongole ($19, regular serving; $27 for double clams) was a straightforward interpretation of clams in a white wine broth. It was the simplicity that made the dish.
The al dente pasta was presented in a hearty shellfish broth with notes of shallots, garlic and fresh parsley on the finish. On top, a mound of open clams beckoned. The meat had a clean fresh flavor. Be sure to sop the golden broth with the house-made olive bread.
One quibble with the linguine alle vongole: one of the clams served was closed tight. This happens in the best of kitchens. It's Mother Nature's way of telling you not to eat it. But it should have been removed from the plate before being brought to the table.
I had always thought that braciola (brah-chee-OH-lah) was an Italian word for roulade, a thin slice of meat rolled around various fillings. But after ordering the agnello braciola ($30) and doing a little research, I learned the translation is tweaked in different Italian communities.
For this dish, lamb chops were frenched, meaning the meat, fat and membranes along the bone to the tip were trimmed away. Stripping away extraneous elements simply gives roasts and chops a more attractive look.
The tender, medium rare lamb chops were accompanied by sautéed wild mushrooms tossed with crisp pancetta and buttery potato mash. The meat was sweet without a hint of gaminess and the mushrooms had a rich, earthy quality from being slow cooked. This was a comfort food triumph.
Lastly, we sampled the tiramisu ($6.50) and robust coffee ($2.50).
Tiramisu is a classic Northern Italian sweet known for its coffee-soaked layers of ladyfinger cookies and decadent use of mascarpone, a velvety Italian cream cheese. The cheese is blended with eggs and sugar to create layers of rich custard. A generous dusting of cocoa powder finishes the dessert. Our portion was good and easily sharable.
Our servers at Piazza Rialto were engaging and knowledgeable, and perhaps the most polite wait staff I have encountered in a long time.
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The Dish on dining
** out of four
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
How much: $10-$30