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TAMPA - Italians have a saying: "Una cena senza vino e come una giornata senza sole". Translated, it means, "dinner without wine is like a day without sun".

The spirit of that aphorism is alive and well in south Tampa, where Vino E Pasta (simply "wine and pasta") features a list of about 20 white and red wines to serve with its dozen pastas.

Spartaco Giolito, who also brought Spartaco Trattoria to nearby Mac Dill Avenue, knows how to create warm, intimate dining spots. He and Eugenio "Luis' Zamora opened this delight in September.

Don't expect a lot of pampering by sommeliers or maitre d's. You won't find either at this down-home, casual place, which seats about 45 diners.

In Vino's one-room dining area, we noticed a table of four women enjoying a girls' night out, another table with three generations planning a family trip back to the Philippine Islands, and a cozy couple laughing at the front table.

The kitchen makes up complimentary bruschetta (the original garlic bread), drizzled with fruity olive oil, and diced Italian plum tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. Other appetizers are limited to a couple of soups: minestrone, Italian wedding or pasta fagioli. We sampled the latter; the much-loved classic came out piping hot with a rich broth accenting the beans.

Salads come with dinner or you can order a .95 chicken Caesar or a seafood version for .95. The chef should add a plain (read: cheaper) Caesar for variety, but there is a good house salad with carrots and red cabbage that comes with a sweet vinaigrette.

Atkins dieters need not worry: Despite the restaurant's name, the menu offers three or four non-pasta entrees. From the grill, there are beef, fish and chicken specials.

But pasta is the main draw, and a mix-and-match menu lets you pair your favorite noodle with your favorite sauce. Pastas include half-dozen long noodles (including capellini, tagliolinicqand bucatini) and a half-dozen short (including cavatappi, cavatelli and lumaconi).

The 14 sauces are divided into two lists. For .95, you can get Pink Princess, Alfredo, red or white primavera, meat, meatball, sausage, tomato and basil or aglio e olio (garlic and oil). Puttanesca, pesto, carbonara, shrimp, frutti di mare or clams and mussels fill the .95 list.

Our pasta was simple but tasty, making our mouths water for creamier Parmesan-rich carbonara on penne, flecked with bacon. The portion seemed skimpy by the usual pasta standards.

Fettuccine topped with a pale pesto sauce is another dependable choice.

A special, Vino's Chicken Rollatini, was sliced thin and rolled around prosciutto ham, cheese and fresh basil, which gave it a subtle sweetness.

Veal special gets an inspired Italian tailoring, its thin slices smothered in a light pesto sauce flecked with capers and tomatoes.

A snapper special was inventive with fresh crab and artichoke hearts bathed in a light lemon sauce. It's served with Pink Princess sauce over bow-tie pasta, but you can order sautéed zucchini and summer squash instead. The vegetables were a little oily on one visit.

Dessert choices are limited to profiterole, cannoli and a creamy espresso-laced tiramisu.

The owners plan to change their lunch menu soon. Stay tuned.

Intimate Eatery Pairs Pasta, Wine
By Mary D. Scourtes of The Tampa Tribune
Published: January 19, 2005

Vino e Pasta might be small, but its menu offers a large variety of dishes,
including offerings such as (from left) Antipasto Misto and Linguine Lobster Tail Frutta di Mare.

Gandy Boulevard abounds with dining opportunities, from a cute little spot for Middle Eastern, to a sushi restaurant to a full-blown steakhouse. In between, eateries offer dishes from almost all parts of the globe. One Italian restaurant you don't want to miss is Vino e Pasta.

Vino e Pasta, in a freestanding building on busy Gandy Boulevard, is not a ritzy joint. Inside, the warm, inviting décor resembles a quaint restaurant in Italy. Art depicting Italian scenes hangs on the walls, while the crooning of Italian singers bathes the dining room from overhead speakers. The space is small and intimate enough to allow conversations with friends, family or dates. And you can relax at a cozy bar at the end of the restaurant with an aperitivi or glass of wine.

The restaurant has white tablecloths and fine vino, but there's nothing stuffy about it. This place makes you feel special and welcome.

Three of us showed up on a busy Friday night with no reservations (someone forgot to make them), and the place was jumping, with no tables available. We were surprised when Luigi, who we later learned was the owner, introduced himself and asked us to wait a few minutes by the bar. We watched as he quickly grabbed a table from a large reservation and put it together for us. And when the guests arrived, they didn't even miss it.

Talk about service.

A few minutes after we were seated, our server arrived, and he was just as courteous and oh-so-friendly, with a ready smile and efficient service.

For a small place, menu selections are wide, with pasta, chicken, veal, seafood, steak and salad offerings.

If you like your meal with wine, Vino e Pasta has a nice selection of red and white wines by the pour and by the bottle.

We were barely seated when a complimentary order of bruschetta arrived that could compete against versions at many Italian restaurants. It was crisp, crunchy and had plump diced tomatoes and fresh basil.

Our waiter also brought out a basket of warm bread with a soft, spongy middle, perfect for sopping up pesto and olive oil, so we indulged, but lightly.

We finally began our dinner with a bowl of pasta fagioli. Rich with bean and tomato flavor and chock-full of ditalini pasta, it was a choice we didn't regret.

For an appetizer, our server recommended the Eggplant Rollatine. Two large slices of eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta and topped with a perfectly seasoned marinara sauce were delizioso.

But a seafood salad with garbanzo beans, corn and crab meat swimming in too much dressing was disappointing.

For dinner, we got things started with one of the evening's specials, Sopa de Mare. It was simply superb. It was loaded with clams and shrimp that were plump and tender, and bolstered with a flavorful white-wine garlic sauce served over linguini. It was so good that we were still singing its praises the next day.

Veal parmigiana is a staple on Italian restaurant menus, and the version served here is one we can recommend. Good-quality veal is used; the breading applied is thin and tasty; mozzarella and Parmesan top off the finished product.

We also enjoyed the chicken Marsala, a plump, juicy sautéed chicken breast topped with mushrooms and white wine Marsala sauce.

We returned for lunch and tried the chicken cannelloni and snapper in lobster sauce and also were impressed.

The cannelloni, Italian crepes, weren't crispy or overbaked. These were soft and wrapped around a savory filling of chicken puree with carrots, celery and ricotta cheese and topped with marinara sauce and more cheese. It could easily have been cheese overload, but it had just the right balance of flavors. The filet of snapper was tender and bathed in a rich and savory lobster cream sauce with baby scallops.

We weren't thinking about dessert, but we forced ourselves to share a couple. The tiramisu was fine, but it was the sauvignon cream that tantalized our taste buds. The light, sweet pudding was beautifully presented in a wine glass with fresh blueberries, bananas and strawberries that soaked up the flavor of the sauvignon. It was simply heaven on the taste buds.

By CLOE CABRERA - The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 24, 2012
Updated: May 29, 2012 - 6:32 AM

"Pasta is an important part of the Italian way of eating and living. Luis & Spartaco developed this restaurant with the singular goal of bringing you the most delicious Italian sauces as well as wide variety of authentic Italian pastas."

Grazie & Buon Appetito!

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