Don’t miss out on the pesto at this Italian restaurant

Solo Italiano’s menu changes daily and it might just have been what we ordered that day many moons ago when we first went, but I didn’t feel like it was a great value. However, while on our recent food tour we stopped by and were quite impressed with our tasting. It made us want to get back immediately to see if, and how, they had progressed.

We had reservations and were seated at a familiar table – the one we had occupied for a short time just the week prior. I didn’t really have anything to compare the menu to since I hadn’t had a meal there in so long, but at first glance, the selection did strike me as more interesting than on my initial visit. My wife ordered a Rose from the ample wine list and we began discussing the menu.

There were a number of apps and entrees available. Among the starters were some raw items, focaccia, salads, and more. Entrees included both pasta and non-pasta dishes. I was in the mood for a salad and some pasta though I had to work out which ones from the numerous options. I also wanted to coordinate with Mrs. Portlandeater so we didn’t order the same items.

She went with the Insalata di Granchio – Jonah crab meat, chilled carnaroli rice, cucumber, heirloom cherry tomato, lemon, chive – to start. Her main course was Mandilli al Vero Pesto Genovese – handkerchief pasta tossed in an authentic Genovese basil pesto (from the food tour). I chose a starter of Barbabiettole – organic roasted beet salad with Stonecipher Farm beets, gorgonzola dolce, Dandelion Spring Farms baby arugula, dressed with honey, lemon, olive oil, and sea salt. My entree was Lasagne al Portofino – Genovese Lasagne, speck, basil pesto, bechamel, farm potatoes and fava beans, Parmigiana-Reggiano, pine nuts.

The starters were both very attractive and well-plated. Their size was strong for appetizers. My salad had lots of beet bites and three dallops of the dolce on top of the arugula. A little lemon zest was sprinkled on the side of the bowl. I tried a bite and loved it except that that the dolce was really strong and needed to be spread throughout. I hadn’t had beets recently, but they were excellent and the sweet, acidic dressing was a great compliment. It was a tasty, hearty salad.

Her dish was listed under the raw choices, but I wasn’t sure what was raw about it even after having had a taste. I loved that it had plenty of crab while the rice and vegetables added a base that didn’t remove any of the flavor. It was sushi-like – relatively light and refreshing while having serious seafood deliciousness. We cleaned our plates and had high hopes for our entrees.

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t know what to expect from a green lasagna with no red sauce. The fava beans and pine nuts were on top, the speck on the bottom. The rest of the ingredients were mainly within the dozen or more thin layers. I took my first bite and really liked the crispy “overcooked” edge. The pesto was brilliant as it had been the week prior. The speck added a really nice touch that was different and more exciting than a traditional meat sauce.

Since I had eaten the handkerchief pasta she had just recently, I knew it was excellent, but a few more bites of it just reinforced that. The astounding creaminess and up-front basil left nothing behind in terms of flavor and overall feel in the mouth. And it wasn’t just the pesto that made it so good as the squirrely pasta was so light and delicate, it felt almost like it could be consumed without chewing (though I wouldn’t recommend that).

When all was said and done, our food came to $112 including tip. It was certainly a better experience than we had there the first time in that the meals just felt more complete for the price. I was quite impressed every step of the way. You can’t go wrong with the pesto, so I highly recommend that, but I enjoyed everything we ordered. Solo Italiano is definitely worthy of a visit and I recommend trying as many items as you can handle, or maybe even more.

100 Commercial St.

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