Dining Out: Hot Italian

Like a lot of people around here, I’ve been walking/riding/driving around Midtown the last several weeks thinking “What the heck is Hot Italian?” I’m referring, of course, to those black-and-white bus stop billboards showing a couple on a moped and proclaiming “Hot Italian” with no explanation. Though I never thought about it long enough to actually Google it and find out whether it was a clothing store, moped dealer or a restaurant.

Turns out it’s all three—at least it looked like there were mopeds for sale. About half the restaurant is filled with lower tables in between racks of sporty-looking clothes and a couple mopeds of different vintages. The main dining area is very European. Not that old school, knights-and-castles idea many of us have about Europe, but what it actually looks like today—sleek and crowded.

The décor here is a stark black and white—perfect for people watching, since colorful clothing stands out in sharp relief. Rather than appealing to a very particular clientele, the people came in many styles and ages. Which also very European. You sit at long, high tables, often with another party at the other end. On another interesting note, my girlfriend recognized the tables as being made of Paperstone, an ecological plastic substitute made of paper and resin. Hot Italian is also to be Sacramento’s first LEED-certified building—this is a strict standard for green design—according to a Sacramento News & Review story this week.

My sister is married to an Italian and lives in Bologna, while my girlfriend did one of those year in Florence programs when she was in college. So we both love real, Italian-style pizza—very thin dough, not too big, and not so much cheese or sauce (or grease) compared to your standard American variety. Each one comes with a single dominant flavor. Our favorite has got to be the Fiori ($15), suffused with truffle oil and covered in thin Italian ham and arugula. The Ferri ($12), with tomato sauce (yes, this actually has to be specified), mozzarella, spinach, ricotta—the ricotta comes in big hunks, rather than being spread everywhere. Our party of four rounded out with the Bartolami ($15)— tomato sauce, mild sausage, smoked scamorza cheese, and excellent chanterelle mushrooms.

The menu here is quite simple, with a variety of items available as pizzas, calzones, paninis or salads—all done up with cute symbols to show what is what. Service is quick and efficient. At least it was the second time we went. The first time our order was slow and some items got missed—something we attributed to the place having just opened. As of this writing, the outside is still done up in that particle board construction material. Still, we liked it enough to visit again, and the second time the service was impeccable. Our only other complaint was that the two different salads we ordered in two visits (the Rossi, $6, with mixed greens, blood oranges, shaved ricotta salata cheese and the Sozzani, $7, with baby spinach, pears, dried cranberries, pine nuts, gorgonzola dolce cheese) were not up to the high quality of the pizzas.

What was very much up to this standard was the gelato ($3 for a cone or cup). I worked in a gelato place the summer I was 18, and ever since have preferred my ice cream soft and melty. On my first trip, I had the chocolate orange, which was intense and dark. The peanut butter cup, which seems quite Americanized to me, but it was a favorite at our table.

But next time I’ll probably get just the caramel salato. It had an amazing long-lasting, burnt flavor that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever had. Finally, a reason to look forward to the hot weather heading our way.

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