Fino Villa lures back former chef

Charm flows like wine at Fino Villa

Fino Villa American Italian Grill’s suburban location at 875 W. Poplar Ave., Suite 31, which is just west of Byhalia Road in Collierville, belies the New York-style experience within.

Photo by Brian Johnson, @Brian Johnson

Fino Villa American Italian Grill’s suburban location at 875 W. Poplar Ave., Suite 31, which is just west of Byhalia Road in Collierville, belies the New York-style experience within.

An attractive antipasto platter starts the meal with components such as grilled vegetables, peppers and salami.

Photo by Brian Johnson

An attractive antipasto platter starts the meal with components such as grilled vegetables, peppers and salami.

A  variety of appetizers include toasted ravioli and crispy calamari served with pomodoro sauce, and a bruschetta that’s tasty even when tomatoes are out of season.

Photo by Brian Johnson

A variety of appetizers include toasted ravioli and crispy calamari served with pomodoro sauce, and a bruschetta that’s tasty even when tomatoes are out of season.

The traditional decor and nicely set tables create an atmosphere reminiscent of a New York dining experience.

Photo by Brian Johnson

The traditional decor and nicely set tables create an atmosphere reminiscent of a New York dining experience.

Photos by Brian Johnson/Special to The Commercial Appeal
The fully stocked bar includes an extensive wine list, with many available by the glass. There is also a large selection of imported and domestic beers.

Photo by Brian Johnson

Photos by Brian Johnson/Special to The Commercial Appeal The fully stocked bar includes an extensive wine list, with many available by the glass. There is also a large selection of imported and domestic beers.

Walking into Fino Villa, in Collierville, reminds me of walking into an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. And I definitely don’t mean that in a bad way.

It’s an attractive room, with classic Roman-looking murals on the walls, with Greek, Roman and Biblical characters above. The background music fits right in with standard Italian tunes, both in Italian and English. The tables, widely spaced enough that you don’t share in your neighbor’s conversations, are nicely set.

Fino Villa is owned by the Sarwar family, who owns several local restaurants, including the Hacienda Mexican restaurants. Chef Bary Sidie started with Fino Villa when it opened in 2005. After stints at local Italian restaurants Pasta Italia and Brooklyn Bridge, he has returned to head the kitchen once again.

I started our first visit with a glass of wine. Fino Villa has a good selection of wines, from a very acceptable house Chianti, to ones to suit almost any diner. And a surprising number are available by the glass.

My dinner partner that evening was a beer drinker, and asked our server about dark beers. She mentioned one she thought might be available. He took that, although it wasn’t his favorite. On a subsequent visit, our server offered to go to the bar to check on availability. We found that his favorite was indeed on the beer list, also among a wide selection. There’s a full and well-stocked bar as well.

We started every visit with a variety of the antipasto sampler. The sampler offers a smaller portion of any three of the antipasti on the menu. Our favorites included the Shrimp Fino, sautéed shrimp in a Gorgonzola-cognac cream sauce. We mopped up the rich sauce with chunks of the crusty bread we were served. On another visit the bread was less crusty, less “Italian.”

The toasted ravioli were nicely done, served with pomodoro sauce, as were the crispy calamari bits. I was a bit wary of ordering the bruschetta since I knew it would be made with winter tomatoes. But the topping, with Gorgonzola, basil and olive oil, was so perfectly seasoned that we hardly noticed that the tomatoes were less than perfectly ripe summer tomatoes.

We enjoyed the topping on the crab-stuffed portobello mushroom antipasto, but the mushrooms had been basted a bit too freely with balsamic vinegar, making them too sharp for the delicate crabmeat.

On our first visit we also ordered the mussels as part of the sampler. We’d ordered the white sauce, but we were served red sauce. We sent it back, but perhaps we would have been happier if we’d kept the red-sauced mussels. The white sauce lacked the garlic-winey flavor we expected.

Particularly appealing was the antipasto platter, with strips of grilled zucchini, chunks of roasted eggplant, roasted red bell peppers, prosciutto, capicolla, salami, cherry peppers, and crumbles of Gorgonzola, all drizzled with olive oil, on a bed of fresh spinach.

We only tried one salad, the wedge salad. The lettuce was fresh and crisp, with toasted walnuts, crispy crumbles of bacon, chunks of Gorgonzola and tomato, and a very tasty chunky blue cheese dressing. A house mixed salad, a caprese salad and a Caesar salad are also offered.

Among the main courses, the shrimp limone was in a lemon, garlic, butter and wine sauce that was mostly lemon, and the linguine was well past the al dente stage. On the other hand, the lamb lollipops, thinly cut chops with a delicious herb-olive oil seasoning, were perfectly cooked to the medium-rare that was requested.

The veal piccata was, surprisingly, also thinly cut bone-in chops rather than scallopini, pounded thinner, lightly breaded and sautéed in olive oil, but they were also too lemony for my taste.

The pizza crust is made in-house and hand-tossed to order. It’s not a thin crispy crust, but right out of the pizza oven, the bottom was nicely browned. Our pizza di casa, with vodka-tomato sauce, shrimp, slivered red onion, fresh spinach and mozzarella cheese, was tasty. There are several specialty pizzas including one I’ll try on our next visit, with smoked Gouda cheese. And the list of toppings is varied enough that I’m sure you’ll find a combination to please you.

One of my favorite dishes was a special one evening, a basil-crusted chicken breast with basil pesto cream sauce on fettuccine. Again, the pasta was overdone for my taste but the sauce was pretty good stuff.

The menu also features most of your Italian favorites, two steaks, rack of lamb, several chicken entrees, lamb and beef cannelloni, salmon, shrimp, and mahi-mahi. Pasta dishes include lobster ravioli, spaghetti with the house Bolognese sauce and meatballs, linguine with clam sauce, and more. The only concession to vegetarians is the eggplant Parmesan, but the chef assured us that he could improvise a pasta dish to a diner’s taste.

There’s also a list of sandwiches: chicken Parmesan, meatball sub, Italian sausage, and a couple of calzones. Each comes with a side salad or seasonal fruit.

The dessert menu includes house-made tiramisu, a traditional Italian dish of ladyfingers layered with cocoa, mascarpone cheese cream and espresso. The Fino Villa version is overly loaded with the very rich mascarpone cream. There’s also cheesecake, cannoli (a tube of deep-fried pastry filled with a sweet creamy filling) and chocolate lava cake. But the star of the dessert menu is the chocolate ravioli. House-made chocolate pasta is filled with cannoli cream and served with a decadent chocolate sauce.

The service can be spotty. On our first visit, while our server was pleasant, she seemed less than totally involved with our dining pleasure. I’m sure you know what I mean. On our most recent visit we had an extremely attentive server, who made our visit much more enjoyable.

Fino Villa

2 Stars

Food: 2 Stars

Service: 1 1/2 Stars

Atmosphere: 2 Stars

Address: 875 W. Poplar, Collierville

Phone: 901-861-2626

Alcohol: Full bar

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 5:30 — 10 p.m.

Reviewer’s choice: Antipasti Sampler ($12), Antipasto Platter ($9), Shrimp Fino ($10), The Wedge Salad ($5), Pizza di Casa ($16), Lamb Lollipops ($12), Chocolate Ravioli ($8)

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