Sometimes, all I think about is food. And, when I say sometimes, I mean all the time. Right now, I am focused on tomato pasta sauce. Should it have fresh tomatoes or will canned be ok? Dried herbs and a long simmer time, or fresh herbs and a quicker cooking time?
We are only a few weeks away from the 34th Annual Great Italian Festival at the Eldorado and our annual quest to win the Festival’s Sauce Cook-off competition. We have come close on two occasions since my husband and I started competing in the contest a few years ago. He is constantly working on replicating his Sicilian grandmother’s sauce. The competition is fierce; there are families that have been making sauce at this Reno festival for all 34 of those years. I cannot tell you how many gallons of sauce we have made, how the recipe is tweaked each year, how hard it is to clean a 32 quart pot and how by mid-October I never want to have red sauce again. Which really only lasts a few weeks, because by November I am sitting down to another plate of pasta and sauce, with a sprinkling of parm.
Last weekend, we decided to have a Sauce competition-planning meeting/date night at Villa Donato, a new Italian restaurant in Midtown. We took advantage of the weather and found a table on their front porch. Formerly Rose’s and the Little House on Center, Villa Donato is, well, lovely. It is warm, romantic and inviting inside, with a fireplace for when the weather turns, and an open kitchen. There are plenty of choices for outdoor dining, which might be a great choice if you bring the kids for breakfast or lunch. Honestly, though, I would save a trip to Villa Donato for when you have a sitter and the time to relax and enjoy dinner.
We started with a simple bruschetta – garlic, fresh tomatoes, basil, just the right amount of olive oil – it was perfect for a warm September evening. They also do a roasted cauliflower appetizer with roasted red pepper dip that I really want to go back and try. Their house salad is a mixture of tossed greens, fresh vegetables and crunchy chickpeas. I am still thinking about those chickpeas. The Caesar was amazing and the Capresce Ala Barese’s Burrata Cheese was so creamy and so good.
Their pastas ranged from a simple Orecchiele Ala Barese with fresh broccoli rabe, garlic, anchovies, olive oil, or the Taglioniala Gambari with shrimp, garlic, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and crostini to a Beef Short Rib And Rigatoni Pugliese, featuring slow cooked beef rib in natural juice and red wine, combined with a rich ragu sauce over rigatoni pasta. I see myself having a plate of that rigatoni and a glass of red wine in front of their fireplace maybe a few times this fall.
My husband judges all Italian restaurants by their red sauce and their meatballs. Villa Donato’s sauce passed, which is high praise. It was simple, fresh tasting and well balanced with the right amount of garlic and onion. The same sauce was used on my Chicken Parmigiana and the side of meatballs we ordered. If I had saved room, I would have had more of that sauce with some bread, or a few more bites of pasta, or maybe the housemade tiramisu, or some of the meatballs that we didn’t finish.
We’ll be back to Villa Donato after the Festival to celebrate our win, or to start planning our strategy for next year.
725 S Center St, Reno, NV 89501