We had not dined at Vivace for many years. Back in 2011, this Italian eatery was one of the first to be awarded Southern Arizona Guide’s 5-Saguaro rating: Best of the Best. Vivace is known to be where your take your guests for special occasions. Now it was time to celebrate Ms. Karen’s eligibility for Medicare, with three of our best Tucson friends.
A Saturday noon reservation for 5 next to a window was easily made through Open Table. They even called that morning to confirm.
When we last dined at Vivace, the restaurant was located in St. Philips Plaza. In 2014, owner/chef Daniel Scardato moved Vivace to the former location of Anthony’s In The Catalinas, 9,000 square feet plus patio and view of the city in the distance to the South and the Santa Catalina Mountains immediately to the North.
This lovely space was available because Anthony's spouse was convicted of trying to swindle the government out of several hundred thousand dollars in income tax. The judge gave her more than a slap on the wrist and the couple lost Tucson’s premier restaurant, known for 25 years for its excellent food, superb service, and the best-stocked wine cellar in Arizona.
Walking in, we could readily see that Mr. Scardato had remodeled the space to reflect his Italian heritage and menu. As before, Vivace is still upscale … at least upscale for Tucson. How do you tell if a Tucson restaurant is upscale? It has white tablecloths and cloth napkins!
According to the online Italian to English Dictionary, “vivace” means lively. I wouldn’t say Vivace Italian Restaurant across Campbell Avenue from La Encantada Mall is particularly “lively”. Subdued or subtle would be a more accurate description, which was fine by us.
Once seated at a table by a window, our server (who never introduced himself) made sure we all had a glass of ice water, then took our drink orders. Immediately noticeable was the absence of Anthony’s two extraordinary sommeliers. These wine stewards were walking encyclopedias for all things related to fermented grapes. I wonder where they are now.
The bread in the bread baskets was just OK. Ragazzi’s in Tubac last week was far superior. But the pesto dip was very good.
The following are the comments from each of our diners, including mine.
Ms. Sue ordered the Penne with Sausage. Roasted red peppers & tomato sauce, baked with Fontina cheese ($19.50).
“I loved this pasta dish and enjoyed the view from our window. However our table seemed cramped for the five of us. Since we had reservations, they should have given us a larger table.
The service was good. I would definitely bring out-of-town guests to Vivace."
Neighbor Roy ordered the Seafood Soup. Scallops, Shrimp, Rock Shrimp, and Salmon in a red-pepper-tomato broth, served over fettuccine ($25.95).
"Always a pleasure to dine at Vivace in the foothills. The valet service allowed us to avoid the hike up the hill to the dining room. This was important as Jim was still limping from recent foot surgery. Once inside the decor is first class. The restaurant is soothingly quiet and the definitely refined Italian.
The lunch menu is somewhat limited compared to the dinner choices. I had the seafood soup: an excellent choice. It was loaded with shrimp, scallops and rock shrimp (like a lobster) over a bed of fettuccini. The broth was divine, and I finished my bowl to the last drop.
Finally, we ordered bread pudding which we divided among our party. The week before, we had experienced the bread pudding dessert at Ragazzi in Tubac and it was terrific. But Vivace’s (I don’t know how this is possible) was even better. A treasure not to be missed.
I had eaten so much that when I got home I went right to bed and slept until the dogs awakened me for their supper. My slumber was loaded with memories of a day well spent in the gastronomical heaven that is Vivace. It deserves its 5-Saguaro rating."
"Both Ms. Karen & I ordered the Barramundi, an Australian Sea Bass. It was served with artichokes and a lemon-butter cream sauce. The fish was not 'fishy', but rather light and flaky with a tart, creamy sauce. If I could suggest an improvement, I would recommend the chef not dice the artichokes so finely as to be almost non-existent. My taste buds were prepared for artichokes and the amount served equaled about a tablespoon. That was disappointing.
The side salad was a combination leaf-lettuce/spinach mix with some grated parmesan cheese. Pretty plain for an upscale restaurant. Italians tend to eat plain salads at the end of their meals but it could have at least included some olives and still remain authentic.
However, the bread pudding dessert was out of this world; a 6 on a 5-point rating scale."
"I made the reservations on Open Table. They called me to confirm. I had asked for a view. It had been a long time since we had been there. Our table overlooked the Santa Rita Mountains in the distance. I do prefer the view of the Catalinas and should have requested seating on that side of the restaurant. Oh well. It was still quite pleasant.
Like Rosemary, I had the Special; Barramundi, Australian Sea Bass ($20.95). It was Australian so we ordered a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called The Seeker to complement. $8 per glass. Very good. But then I have never had a bad New Zealand wine.
I was initially going to order a typical Italian dish, eggplant, to compare with Ragazzi from the week before, but the fish and artichokes in butter and lemon won out. Really, really good. But what wouldn’t be with butter and lemon sauce.
The salad was lacking something, like taste. The dressing was kinda flat. Left me wanting. The table was a bit too small for 5 with all the plates and wine glasses. The bread was ok, but the pesto was very good. This was lunch, so the atmosphere was more casual than at dinner time. Our waiter was efficient."
Pork Permigiano: Breaded pork tenderloin with tomato, light demi glace sauce, baked with Fontina cheese served over vegetable pasta ($23.95).
"I really enjoyed this dish. As others have commented, the side salad was bland and disappointing. When I return someday (and I will) methinks a good red wine would be a better pairing.
As this was one of Ms. Karen’s many birthday celebrations, our bread pudding came with a lit candle. We five shared the one dish and raved about this extraordinary dessert."
Although we had a few disappointments, mainly the uninteresting salad, the overall Vivace lunch experience was excellent. And when we exited the front door, the valet had our car waiting. Nice touch.
Do we recommend Vivace to our friends and family? Absolutely! But no matter what else you order, you owe it to yourself and dining companions to save room for their bread pudding dessert. For this, you can thank me later.
Vivace Italian Restaurant
6440 N. Campbell Avenue