Desperately seeking: The start of spring may turn some people's fancies to thoughts of love, but for me it means only one thing: three months left until Westword's annual Best of Denver issue. By the time the actual issue rolls around--on June 27 this year--I'll have visited hundreds of restaurants, sometimes as many as twelve in one day, in order to decide whether a reader's recommendation for the best hot dog (I'm still taking nominations, by the way) or a co-worker's enthusiastic testimonial for a certain marinated squid turns out to be worthy of inclusion.
Most of the time, the answer is no. Sometimes, though, I stumble upon a place that might not be the best in its class--or even compelling material for a review--but still has enough going for it that I want to tell someone about it. So submitted for your consideration is Viva Napoli, a smallish mom-and-pop Italian place at 4550 South Kipling in Littleton.
The pop is Vittorio Capocelli, the mom is his wife, Rita, and both of them hail from Napoli. They serve up their old family recipes in Viva Napoli's red, white and green dining room, which falls somewhere between casual and white linen in feel. In taste, the food falls somewhere between good and better--but sadly, it's not the best.
Viva Napoli's menu offers more dishes than an Italian wedding, with thirty types of pasta alone, although most involve one of the major Italian sauces (red, white or wine). When we stopped in at lunch, we went with the eggplant sorrentina ($5.95) and gnocchi al pomodoro ($5.95). The eggplant had been roasted, rolled around ricotta and topped with provolone and homemade marinara for a respectable entree; it was served with a side of spaghetti coated with a consummate red sauce. The gnocchi, while a little on the dry side, were resplendent in a fresh sauce of tomatoes and basil.
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But the real draw was Rita, who was so welcoming that she thanked us for stopping by and urged us to come again...before we ever sat down. Viva Napoli may not be the best Italian restaurant in Denver, but I may well take Rita up on her offer and return on my own time.
Mommie dearest: If Rita were my mom, I'd take her out to brunch on Mother's Day, May 12. Anastasia Vieux Carre, at 5946 South Holly in Greenwood Village, will put on an all-you-can-eat, sit-down champagne brunch for $18.95 per person...The Normandy, 1515 Madison, will also do sit-down, but from an a la carte menu...McCormick's Fish House and Bar, at 1659 Wazee, will feature a $16.95 buffet ($10.95 for ages six to twelve, $5.95 for five and under)...New chef James Footit will offer tastes of the South Pacific and the Mediterranean at the Westin Hotel, Tabor Center, at 1672 Lawrence; the $29.95-per-person buffet will have a kids-only station ($15.95 for ages six to twelve, free for five and under) and a supervised play area.
Fish tales: The Westin's Augusta restaurant is a final destination for the Copper River salmon, an Alaskan strain of the fish that runs for only three weeks and is mighty tasty after its 250-mile fight to swim upriver each May. On May 20 the Augusta will feature the king salmon at a $24.95 wine dinner, pairing it with wines from Kendall-Jackson. Mid-month you can also try this bright-orange specimen at both Mel's Bar and Grill (which has a new spring menu, too), at 235 Fillmore Street, and Starfish, at 300 Fillmore.