Essentially, Café Rio has an Italian cousin. Fast-paced, tasty, casual Italian trattoria.
The Place: 69 S. State St, Orem, in the Smith's parking lot. Easy to pass by if you're not looking hard enough. It's not convenient to BYU students, though. It's a good distance away from where most people live, but it's worth the drive.
(I just found out from Facebook that they're changing their name to The Wild Zucchini Grill. Apparently a winery in California claimed the name "Paesan," and they decided the legal battle wasn't worth it [in my opinion, most aren't] and changed their name. The name holds meaning, but I think it's kind of a mouthful. But then again, so is the food.)
The Atmosphere: This place certainly beats out its Mexican cousin Café Rio in this category. Rio is brightly decorated and covered with large stamps touting the franchise's food, but Paesan has an elegant feel to its decor. I felt as if I were dining in some casual establishment on the streets of Venice -- old-style walls and doorways adorned the building; fake trees and lampposts added to the outdoorsy feel. It's a very casual and quiet place. Good for dates, groups, families... a nice place. I was quite impressed.
The Staff: The people working when I went there were really friendly. None of them owned the place, if I recall correctly, but they enjoyed their jobs. The restaurant isn't very frequented because it's so far off the beaten path, so they did a great job at making my friend and me feel welcome and comfortable.
The Food: Similar to Café Rio, you order at the front of the line, watch your food be made fresh before your eyes, and then pay and enjoy. Take your pick between pizza, pasta, salad, or sandwiches. We ordered the pizzas. They were definitely the right size for one pizza -- not too much food or too little. Obviously, because the pizza dough needs to be cooked before eaten, there was a slight delay after paying and sitting before we could eat. But honestly, the wood-fired kiln was really cool. Large, elegant, well decorated.
Rio is famous for the pork barbacoa; Paesan boasts the comparable apple-braised pork. I couldn't say no to that. The pizza was topped with mozzarella and another kind of cheese (I forgot! I went here a while ago), along with some diced zucchini. Apparently each dish involves the cool, crisp zucchini strips they use, which obviously provided inspiration for the trattoria's new name. I don't think I've ever had zucchini on pizza before, but I definitely enjoyed it here. It cooked well in the kiln but stayed light and crisp at the same time. It gave the pizza a nice zest. The apple-braised pork was, as any pork barbacoa fan can assume, delectable. The apple flavor was present; not distinctly, but still there enough to be recognized.
The second pizza that we split was the Italian sausage pizza. The zucchini seemed to be prepared in a different way, or was a different kind of zucchini all together. When I return to the restaurant, I shall confirm the zucchini distinction. Like on the apple-braised pork pizza, the zucchini strips were a nice addition to the pizza itself. Without the zucchini, the pizza can definitely hold its own. They didn't hold back on the sausage, so it was full and delicious. Same cheeses on this one too, if I'm not mistaken.
The Verdict: Four bananas! A classy establishment with excellent ambience and friendly staff (one guy, Jim was his name perhaps, gave us two cookies for free because the girl running the register was cleaning elsewhere and he didn't want to make us wait for her. What a stud). The food is vibrant and filling, with no skimping on the toppings. The sauce wasn't overbearing; it provided a simple base and then got out of the way. I plan to try salads, sandwiches, and pastas on subsequent visits. That's a good sign -- if I plan on going back, you should plan on going at least once. (and it was only around $7 or 8 per person! Great date place!)
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