published Friday, February 24th, 2012

Chianti adds just the right touch to pastas, pizzas

IF YOU GO

Where: Chianti Ristorante Italian and Pizzeria.

Where: 8968 Dayton Pike, Soddy-Daisy.

Phone: 332-4950.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday.

Price range: $2 (garlic bread appetizer)-$20 (large, 19-inch) portobello specialty pizza.

Soddy-Daisy's newest eatery, Chianti Ristorante Italian and Pizzeria, may seem a little out of place for a fine-dining establishment. It's situated between an upholstery shop with furniture on the front stoop and an empty building; a pet-grooming business is across the street. But don't let the surroundings stop you. After all, it's not what's outside but what's on the menu that should draw you in. The food and service are what counts. With that in mind, I entered for dinner.

THE MENU

Chianti's Facebook page takes a minimalist approach to information, but it does brag about the pasta, encouraging guests to try it. Our waitress said the pasta, like every other dish on the menu, is made from scratch, an impressive contribution to any Italian dinner.

A large breadstick is brought to the table to stave off hunger pains while you peruse the menu. It's served with little tubs of margarine. Herbed olive oil would have been so much nicer.

The order (for two): Gamberi alla Cardinale ($13.50); one medium (17-inch) pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms ($11.75).

Names on the menu, such as Gamberi alla Cardinale, were impressive and reminiscent of higher-end Italian restaurants. This dish was a mixture of hand-crafted fettuccine in a lovely white cream sauce with three very large shrimp and a large scallop presented in a square white dish. The combination of flavors was excellent, particularly with the addition of a little grated parmesan and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes. The serving size, like all dishes I saw coming from the kitchen, was generous, enough to carry home for another meal.

A side salad comes with all entrees, though this one hardly lived up to the wonderful entree that followed. It was a rather lackluster green lettuce salad lacking the cherry tomatoes printed in the menu description.

Pizza at Chianti is a house favorite, our waitress said. So if you're not up for a pasta dish, I would highly recommend you try the pizza. The thin, made-from-scratch crust was chewy, not like so many thin crusts that have more of a cracker texture. If you get the crust wrong, the rest of the pizza is a disaster. Chianti does it right. It reminded me of pizzas I enjoyed during a brief stint in New York in my younger days. It's the kind that you can take slice by slice, bend into a sandwich and take a bite without all the toppings dropping off. Chianti doesn't skimp on toppings, either. Both pepperoni and mushrooms were plentiful.

Other entrees include several additional seafood pasta dishes with mussels, clams and calamari; raviolo; spaghetti; lasagna; main-dish salads; Alfredo; arriabetta with a choice of pastas; veal and chicken dishes; huge calzones; submarine sandwiches; and even a Philly cheesesteak for those wanting a truly American experience.

An interesting note: From the name of this restaurant as well as the menu sporting a bottle of wine, one would assume that Chianti would have a nice wine list. In fact, wine is not served at all, though Soddy-Daisy passed liquor-by-the-drink laws several years ago. If you want wine, you'll have to bring it yourself. Brown-bagging is permissible, and it certainly cuts down on the price of your meal. There are several varieties of beer, however.

THE SERVICE

This is a full-service restaurant with takeout available -- and many patrons were coming in to pick up their call-ahead enormous pizzas. Apparently the secret is out in Soddy-Daisy. Our waitress was adept at her job, willing to recommend menu items, as well as quick to fill empty glasses and remove empty bowls and plates. No complaints on that end.

THE SPACE

As mentioned, the neighborhood is a mix of enterprises, some nicer than others. Inside Chianti, you'll find a large room with tables in the center and booths along the sides, along with fluorescent lighting that's rather harsh. There's nothing elegant about this restaurant, none of the romantic ambiance often found in Italian eateries. If you want that, go somewhere else. If you want good food, stay.

THE VERDICT

Chianti is a good addition to Soddy-Daisy's growing restaurant scene. It's the third Italian eatery on Dayton Pike (Flavors of Italy and Rafael's are the others), but there's distance enough between the three to make this place a success. It's said that competition is good for business, but the food here just may be good enough for Chianti to stand on its own.

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