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Review: Warm spirit, full belly at Paravicini's in Colorado Springs

February 7, 2014 Updated: February 7, 2014 at 7:20 am
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When the winter winds are whipping down the street, looking for those little gaps between your scarf and your coat, you need a warm oasis to duck into. I feel a little ridiculous saying this, but walking into Paravicini's Italian Bistro feels like coming home on one of those bitter nights.

Bright and warm, the high-ceilinged room beckons you in, with painted, exposed brick on one side and an open kitchen on the other. Stone arches lead to other softly lit dining rooms, some lined with wooden wine racks. The staff is friendly and ready to offer suggestions or answer questions while you're perusing the menu. It feels like you've stepped into the kitchen of an Italian villa, and this new family wants you to feel right at home.

Once you're seated and settled, the waiter will bring to your table an amber-crusted loaf of freshly baked bread, the crust sprinkled with coarse salt. The interior is soft but dense; the crust is golden and chewy. While it's tempting to gorge on the gorgeous little loaves, you'll want to save room for the food to come.

We tried eggplant fries ($8.50) for an appetizer, despite my trepidation. While I'm not the world's biggest eggplant fan, I'm happy to say the fries were magnificent. The batons of eggplant are barely dusted with flour before frying, so there's a thin, crisp exterior and juicy interior, letting the earthy, subtly sweet flavor of the eggplant shine through. They came with a dipping sauce of simple but exquisite marinara, with just the right amount of saltiness and sweetness to make the tomatoes burst on your tongue like a teasing taste of summer. Someone at the table might have eaten the leftovers with a spoon.

The only weak point in the whole meal was the salad dressing. The romaine and baby spinach were fresh, and the croutons and shredded carrot added color and texture, but the vinaigrette was out of balance, with too much sweetness from the balsamic vinegar. A sprinkle of salt helped, but a pinch when the dressing was made would have been even better.

The vegetarian in our party ordered the capellini pomodoro ($10.95) at the waitress's suggestion. (Capellini is a fine pasta, thinner than spaghetti but thicker than angel hair.) In this simply sauced pasta, the tomatoes melded with the flavors of basil, garlic and olive oil, every flavor singing in harmony. The waitress suggested adding sauteed mushrooms and artichoke hearts to the dish, which made it a little bit heartier for a cold winter's night.

The die-hard carnivore ordered the Steak Paravicini ($23.94). The 10-ounce New York strip steak was juicy, an expertly grilled medium rare. The steak was topped with an abundance of sweet, tender shrimp nestled under a rich tomato-basil cream sauce. This is another dish where the balance is spot-on. The shrimp offsets the beef, and the sauce enhances the flavor of both without being too heavy.

I must admit, I've never had Italian food that really registered on the spicy scale. That changed after one bite of Veal Giuseppe ($19.95), noted on the menu as a Paravicini Original. While the veal was mild, tender and firm, it was the sauce that made me sit up straight and immediately want a second bite. The spicy Italian sausage? Oh, yeah, it's spicy, all right. Combined with hot and sweet cherry peppers, garlic, capers and olives, the flavors were hot, bright, briny and totally Mediterranean in origin. While the flavors rocked the veal, I could easily see this sauce serving as a topping for a pizza or ladled over a creamy pile of polenta. Frankly, if you put this sauce over a piece of cardboard, I'm pretty sure I'd eat it.

After much consultation with the waitress about the various seafood dishes, I settled on Cod Calabrese ($17.95), another Paravicini Original. A thick piece of cod is sauteed to juicy, buttery perfection with sweet, chewy sun-dried tomatoes, tender artichoke hearts, meaty mushrooms and tiny, thin green beans. The result is served over a bed of risotto in a large, shallow bowl. The rice in the risotto is soft but still firm to the bite, the whole preparation creamy and mild. While it worked well against the cod, I'm not sure I'd want to eat it without the fish or another bold flavor against it.

At the end of the evening, we left full, happy and warm into that cold night. Three of us carried leftovers that made for an indulgent lunch the next day, one that reminded of us of being warm and well-fed.

Restaurant character: A warm and welcoming restaurant with Italian classics and some interesting original dishes from the chef and co-owner, Franco Pisani.

Rating total: 4.8 out of 5 stars

Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ambiance: 5 out of 5 stars

Service: 5 out of 5 stars

Address: 2802 W. Colorado Ave., 80904

Contact: 471-8200,

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Entrees: $10.95-$23.95

Alcohol: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Vegetarian options: Yes; eggplant parmigiana ($15.95), capellini pomodoro ($10.95)

Wi-Fi: No

what's online As of Jan. 23:

- 86 percent of 365 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon

- 3.5 out of 5 stars based on 64 reviews on Yelp

- On Facebook but not active; search "Paravicini's Bistro"

- One noncritical violation was marked during a November inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.

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