Long live Vivace and its osso buco
Appealing Italian fare in Belmont
Robin Davis, SFChronicle
Vivace in Belmont is cleverly arranged, the bar separated from the dining room by a glass wall. The setup lends a sense of intimacy to both rooms.
Those perched on a stool at the bar or nestled into one of the small booths can watch baseball or football on the television, while those in the dining room aren’t bothered by the noise.
Glass and mirrors are used throughout the 6-year-old restaurant to make it look larger than it is. A rosy terra-cotta cloth covers the walls, which pair nicely with the burgundy patterned upholstery, gold-toned sconces and dark wood chairs.
Vivace is owned by Mike Gundogdu, Pauline Knapton has been heading his kitchen at Vivace for three years.
Knapton has a knack for osso buco. She deviates from the traditional veal and makes hers with lamb shanks ($21.95), but the results are spectacular. The meat is so tender it could be cut with a spoon, yet not dry, and deeply flavored with the hearty tomato sauce. The soft polenta alongside tastes buttery, though the sticky texture was off-putting.
Two kinds of potatoes — roasted and mashed — come with the game hen roasted in the wood-fired oven ($17.95), which is more starch than most of us need. But there’s no faulting the delicious flavor of the bird, with its crispy skin and aromas of garlic and rosemary.
The accommodating staff makes it easy to put together exactly as much food as diners want. We asked to split a salad and a pasta as our appetizers. Our waiter was happy to oblige, ordering two small versions of the insalata trevisana ($7.95), a portion not noted on the menu. But the manageable size of the salad — made of spinach, shreds of radicchio, candied walnuts and Gorgonzola — was perfect.
Sharing the pansotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta ($14.95) turned out to be a good idea as well. Eight plump pasta pillows sitting in a pool of tomato sauce topped with fried sage leaves might be too rich to tackle as an entree, but all the flavors married so perfectly it would be a shame to miss the dish.
For dessert (all $7), we opted for the tiramisu, a respectable version where the mascarpone doesn’t get lost among the other ingredients. We also enjoyed the profiteroles, four vanilla gelato-filled cream puffs stacked and drizzled with melted chocolate, though the pastries were a bit chewy instead of crisp.
Vivace has always been appealing to those who lived in Belmont, but it’s come such a long way in improving service and food that it should be a Peninsula destination for those who live farther away.
“Vivace provides mood and food that live up to its name (lively and spirited). A real winner is the house’s special orecchiette…”