Avvio sounds sleek, like a celebrity baby name, but it loosely translates to “start” in Italian. What a fitting name for this restart of Papa Razzi, a 20-year Garden City favorite. Avvio’s concept is similar to its predecessor. This is not surprising since both the Newport Restaurant Group and the Papa Razzi chain are owned by the same Rhode Island-based parent company. Though I never visited the Papa Razzi in Garden City, I had my share of meals in the New Jersey location during my youth, from preteen mall trips to high school dates.
I was feeling some nostalgia for those thin bread sticks. Those, thankfully, are still around. Everything else, though, has a more posh feel: instead of 1990s bistro Italian, the menu leans closer to the Italian craft food concept epitomized by hot spots like Eataly.
Though the menu includes Italian classics like Veal Parmesan, other dishes demonstrate a creative use of quality ingredients and a mix of local and Italian imports. Like other Newport Restaurant Group properties, I found everything to be well designed, from the website to the bathroom.
We started with a few drinks. A couple of years ago, the only Italian beer on American menus was Peroni. In the last year though, Italian craft beers are starting to trend. Avvio’s list has a few picks. My mom had a Baladin Isaac, an adorable pear-shaped bottle of wheat beer with a hint of spice and fruit. Baladin has been a pioneer in this growing movement and is known for its creativity with styles and ingredients. My husband had the Reale Extra from Birra Del Borgo, a draft IPA. My dad went with the classic Peroni, a simple, mass-produced lager. The odd one out, I just had to try a Slovenian Rosé from the Slavcek vineyard, in the Vipava valley not far from the Italian border. I appreciated that the by-the-glass wines are also available in half-glass pours.
Speaking of starts, an appetizer and a pizza is a good start for four. I thought including shrimp in classic calamari would be an odd twist, but the Calamari and Shrimp Fritti was very similar to other versions of our official state appetizer.
Though we were tempted by the Black Fig pizza, we ended up choosing the Bada Bing. Decorated with pepperoni, sopressata and sliced banana peppers, this was one loud pie. Avvio takes pride in their pizza prep, with a wood oven and type 00 flour to make a true Neapolitan slice. We liked the thin crust and the pizza was just floppy enough to require silverware.
Our four entrees touched all corners of the menu. My mom chose the Shrimp Risotto. The large portion of risotto included a variety of vegetables and was topped with several wild-harvested shrimp. My dad, also in the mood for seafood, had the scallops. At a glance, I thought his scallops also came with risotto, but it turned out to be barley with finely diced winter vegetables. A hint of nutmeg and cranberry gastrique gave this a true winter touch, the cranberry adding a sour brightness to this sweet and rich dish. My husband had the special, a classic rib eye steak with mashed potatoes. I thought the Pesce All’Acqua Pazza stood out on the menu, and I was right to order it. A generous piece of cod sat in a “sea salt ocean broth” with roasted asparagus and grape tomatoes. The broth was fantastic! On the side, we had the Wood Grilled Cauliflower and Wood Roasted Mushrooms.
For our entrees, my husband and I switched to wine: me, Rivera Preludio #1, a Chardonnay from the Castel Del Monte area in Italy, just at the top of the heel of Italy’s “boot.” He had the Argiano NC Super Tuscan, a bold red, to accompany his steak.
After wrapping up a large part of our meals, we ordered two desserts. The Panna Cotta is a great option for someone who doesn’t have a big sweet tooth – it’s tangy and light. The Chocolate Ganache Tart is the opposite, a choice for chocoholics. I’m sometimes disappointed by what promises to be a rich, chocolate dessert, but not this time. This was a serious, quality ganache with an addictive scoop of salted caramel gelato.
Avvio is at home in a shopping hub like Garden City. Its bustling, jovial environment and fast service caters to hectic shoppers. Restaurants in shopping areas can afford to slack and still bring in a crowd, but I’m hopeful that Avvio will continue to innovate.
90 Hillside Road, Cranston