It was our anniversary together and, considering the fact that my girlfriend is half Sicilian and we've just recently returned from a trip to Rome, an Italian restaurant seemed like the appropriate choice for our dinner out.
Scotti's is one of those Cincinnati mainstays, typically the first restaurant mentioned to visitors who want to experience authentic Italian dishes. It's been around since 1912, when Salvatore Scoleri moved from Philadelphia to Cincinnati. He named the place after Antonio Scotti, a friend and famous Metropolitan opera singer. The current owners --the DiMarco family-- are Scotti's great-grandchildren.
We've only been there twice; I'd heard many stories about the place that had piqued my interest. Among them were tales of eating mounds of pasta served on a red-and-white checkerboard table cloth while the family owners bickered loudly at one another in the kitchen. That kind of homey ambiance appealed to me.
We entered to find the place just as we'd remembered it: wall-to-wall, multicolored tile of various shape and size glittered from the table candlelight; candles on every table rested on a large volcano of accumulated wax drippings; photos of families and Italian street scenes dotted the walls. It was still light outside, so the dark room was alit a tad bit more than usual from the single, decorative glass block window in the front.
Scotti's menu is divided into three main categories: pasta, veal and steak dishes. While several of the veal listings called to me, we both focused on the pasta. My girlfriend ordered the "half-and-half," consisting of a half order of spaghetti and a half order of ravioli. I ordered the Linguine Con Vongole, or linguine and clams. Both of us chose the Diavolo sauce for our pasta, which is described in the menu as a "highly seasoned" sauce with hot peppers.
Minestrone soup and salad come standard with the pasta. Bread and butter also comes along for the ride, but we instead opted for the garlic bread for $2.50 more. The soup was very hearty, with large ditalini pasta set atop the flavorful broth.
The salad was as memorable as it was on our first visit. I am not a salad person and rarely eat it at restaurants. If it comes with the meal, I'll usually opt for soup instead. I just find house salads boring. A little lettuce, maybe a tomato or two if you're lucky --who cares? But this is a salad I can eat again and again. The dressing is an amazing sweet-and-sour concoction, a sugary-vinegary delight that made it seem more like a hearty cole slaw. I got the impression that the dressing was probably not very good for me, but what the hell. If all salads were like this, I'd eat more of the green stuff.
When our pasta was served, the waitress (whom I guessed was probably Tenerina DiMarco, a co-owner) warned us that the Diavolo sauce was very spicy and then brought us two additional tall glasses of water to punctuate her point. Now, we're spicy food lovers and are often warned about dishes being "very spicy" only to be disappointed. Take my word for it: when someone at Scotti's tells you your food will be spicy, they aren't whistlin' Dixie. The sauce was far spicier than we ever would have imagined.
Still, the pasta was tasty, with generous chunks of tomatoes and clams. I'm proud to say that I suffered every miserable, spicy bite of goodness without more than a few sips from my water.
For dessert, we each ordered Scotti's wonderful cannoli. With a combined resume of more than 100 cannoli consumed in our lifetime, we've had time to narrow down the very best. Our absolute favorite cannoli came from a small shop in Rome, but the tastiest cannoli in the States can be found at Scotti's. There's a certain magic happening deep within the molecules of that ricotta filling, something that can't easily be measured or explained. It was simply something to be accepted and enjoyed. And so we did.
While the food at Scotti's is more expensive than at your typical restaurant (this ain't the Olive Garden, sister), it's the full Italian culinary experience that doesn't leave you feeling cheated in the end.