Issue 28

Vivace Review: Putting a New Menu to the Test

Vivace Review: Putting a New Menu to the Test

For Food & Spirits Magazine’s quarterly round-table review we hit Vivace located in the Old Market (1108 Howard St.). Having been around for nearly 15 years, Vivace recently went through a revamping of their menu. Still doing contemporary Italian cuisine, Vivace wants to focus more on fresh and local ingredients while emphasizing the contemporary aspect of their food. After much development, Neapolitan, hand-tossed pizza is also on the new menu and has been rumored to be some of the best in town. Paninis, homemade pastas and small plates, or tapas, also appear on the new menu.

We followed the same general format for the review as in previous issues; Rather than just one reviewer, we sent five different people, representing different levels of the culinary food chain (and just downright interesting people), to give us their take in a round-table sort of discussion. We did this because, while we also wanted the high-end and very-knowledgeable food consumer to be represented, we wanted the more average or general eater to have a place at the table and in an atmosphere that was close to the same way we all go out to eat with friends and family. Our hope is that the different perspectives provide a more-rounded review of the experience while also giving you, the reader, a chance to see what someone who might be similar in their tastes said about their meal.

We notified the restaurant what night would be coming and allowed the restaurant to order our meal .Scores were given in presentation, flavor and an overall score on a scale of one to ten (with ten being the highest). The diners were also asked to tell us a little about themselves and where they are coming from with food. With that, here are your reviewers…

Krista O’Malley
After working for a wedding photograher in Chicago, Krista O’Malley was inspired to become an event planner. She pulled up stakes and headed to the New England Culinary Institute. There, she studied Culinary Arts in addition to Food and Beverage Management. Krista has been happily planning events ever since. She and her husband, chef Brian O’Malley, have been busy raising their two girls, Marin and Finley, and eating voraciously throughout Omaha.

Kelly Schumacher

Kelly grew up in a small town, eating homemade meals daily. Her close family loves food and enjoys cooking. Kelly learned to cook by watching her grandma and parents, and spent many hours canning, freezing and preserving produce from the family’s garden. Kelly’s not finicky and will try most anything, but she loves to cook traditional meals and prefers her meals au naturale without too much spice or enhancement. She’ll occasionally try her hand at something new and really likes to try new things while out and about in Omaha. Since moving here a few years ago, Kelly has been particularly excited about the variety of wines available in Omaha she couldn’t find at Casey’s General Store back home. With her background in fresh traditional food, Kelly is enthusiastic about trends towards more fresh and natural foods and has been enjoying the fruits of her garden in Omaha.

Sarah Benck

Sarah is 23 years old, and was born and raised in Omaha NE. She is a songwriter/ musician, and currently plays in Sarah Benck and the Robbers. Growing up, her annual birthday dinner was her Mom’s Swedish meatballs. One of her best dishes to prepare is a spicy spaghetti sauce, with veggies and spicy turkey sausage, stuffed red peppers, and homemade wheat bread. Like sounds in music, there are limitless combinations of flavors to cook with, and she enjoys the creative process. When her music takes her to other cities, her budget is usually minimal, and the diet consists mainly of gas station snacks or fast food (two of her least favorite things). Her recent favorite is in Sheboygan WI, at Jalisco’s. She had the Avocado burrito, stuffed with fresh ingredients and sealed with toasted perfection. Her local favorites are Brother Sebastians, Jaipur, and El Aguila.

Derek (GastronomicFightClub.com)

Derek was a picky eater as a kid. Oddly, he always liked to cook and fancied himself a chef, but his list of acceptable ingredients was fairly short. Meeting the woman he would marry, and moving to California changed all of that. His wife was a budding foodie when he met her and they explored the nooks and crannies of the food world together. Doing so forced him to learn to appreciate all tastes and textures regardless of his initial impression. He’s gone from a person who dislikes fish so much he wouldn’t even eat a fish stick to a person who thinks there is no better way to eat fish than a gleaming plate of sashimi. Because food for Derek is about experiencing new things, he’s been drawn primarily to fine dining and regional cuisines. Both have great potential for challenging him with dishes he never would have conceived on his own. As for that kid who aspired to be a chef, he’s contentedly abandoned that dream. He still cooks occasionally, though not nearly as often as he’d like – but when he does cook, he cooks with reckless abandon.

Brian O’Malley

Brian is a chef instructor at Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts. A graduate from New England Culinary Institute and a member of the American Culinary Federation, Brian worked as the chef/owner of Spread. He was a manager/instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, head chef at Vanilia in Santorini, Greece, and BackNine Grille, assistant food and beverage manager at the Champion’s Club, and opening chef at BOJO. Brian can usually be found in MCC’s kitchens, teaching, creating works of culinary genius or debating the perils of out of season tomatoes.

 

1. Beef Carpaccio with salsa Genovese and shaved Romano cheese ($9.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.37
Combined Average Flavor Score: 6.63
Combined Average Score: 6.37

Selected Comments
Kelly: A little intimidating at first. Olives and raw meat are not my fancy. It was surprisingly good, all the flavors came together well.
Sarah: Not an overly strong flavor or strong impression on my taste buds. I like the way the sharpness of the cheese combined with the simple meat flavor.
Brian: Interesting with olives. Some nice salt and oil would have picked it up.
Derek: The accompaniments overpowered the delicate beef flavor. That said, still good.

2. Calamari fried and served with banana peppers and basil, served with marinara ($7.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.2
Combined Average Flavor Score: 4.6
Combined Average Score: 3.9

Selected Comments
Kelly: Not my favorite. It was lukewarm, may have been better piping hot. Banana peppers were a nice sour/spicy addition. They were a little chewy.
Sarah: Tasted like fried calamari I’ve had anywhere else.
Krista: I thought this was very bland. The dish didn’t have any salt, and they were chewy.
Brian: The real deal breaker on calamari is being rubbery, and it was.
Derek: A little chewy. It does have a bit of a zip, and I liked the breading. This was a little greasy.

3. Goat Bread: goat cheese and marinara baked and served with crispy ciabatta bread ($4.50)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.4
Combined Average Flavor Score: 7.8
Combined Average Score: 7.4

Selected Comments:
Kelly: I love goat cheese. Simple and yummy, can’t go wrong with this one.
Sarah: Considering the simple ingredients, it tasted as I would expect. I like the temperature. The cheese was smooth and creamy. Presentation was classic but not extremely inventive.
Krista: I found this too cool in temperature, a little heavy on goat cheese flavor, and the chips should be on the same plate.
Brian: A very well thought out dish. I love hot goat cheese and this was on its way to burning my mouth. Nice peppery finish.
Derek: Just really good. Well balanced.

4. Lamb Kofta: ground lamb and toasted spices, skewered and served with yogurt sauce ($8.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.75
Combined Average Flavor Score: 5.88
Combined Average Score: 6.13

Selected Comments

Kelly: Wow, I don’t think I’ve tasted these spices before. Definitely different. Not a big fan of lamb to begin with. It didn’t change my mind.
Sarah: The texture was not too dry. A very interesting flavor. Not sure what spices were used, maybe saffron. Good presentation. Flavor was different, not sure if it was my taste.
Brian: This dish was very flavorful, but a little tough. It seemed a little out of place in “Contemporary Italian.”
Derek: I could see someone thinking it was dry, but that’s the dish. Nice job with the herbs and spices. This has great sauce and couscous too. This dish was one of my favorites. Isn’t this an Italian Restaurant?

5. Dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and Marcona almonds, wrapped in coppa ham ($6.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.2
Combined Average Flavor Score: 8.8
Combined Average Score: 8.6

Selected Comments:
Kelly: I love these. Sweet and hearty, yummy. The nutty center was a welcome surprise.
Sarah: Wow, delicious! They say [bacon] ham makes everything better. The almonds were creamy but still had crunch. This flavor combination was my favorite.
Krista: I could’ve eaten several more. They were sweet and very flavorful.
Brian: Delicious! This is just what great food should be: simple and full of bacon fat. When the dates are fresh, this dish is worth a million bucks.
Derek: What I was thinking was what a unique dish. Great salami with a really salty finish. Overall this appetizer has a good balance of sweet, salty, etc.

6. Fritters: Meyer lemon and ricotta cheese fritters ($4.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 4.67
Combined Average Flavor Score: 6.8
Combined Average Score: 6.3

Selected Comments:
Kelly: They were very moist and lemony. I like the flavor. It seemed odd to come out without a sauce, but kind of like lemon bars fried into a ball! Yum!
Sarah: These had a good citrus flavor. I liked how they were soft but not doughy. I think I would like this as a dessert.
Krista: Wonderful for after dinner. Need some sort of sauce. Not too crispy, which is what I was expecting.
Brian: Lemon was wearing the pants in this dish. I would’ve liked more balance. The ricotta needed to be more forward.
Derek: This was surprisingly sweet. I thought it was a dessert. It was like a moist sponge cake or a cake doughnut. This didn’t really fit as an appetizer.

7. Crab cakes seared and served with pepperonata and aioli ($10.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.2
Combined Average Flavor Score: 8.8
Combined Average Score: 8.6

Selected Comments:
Kelly: Presentation was very nice and colorful. It looked very appetizing. Surprisingly spicy. Typically I don’t order crab cakes, but these were good.
Sarah: This was delicious! In the past when I order crab cakes they are dry and cake-like. I loved that it was creamy and smooth. This had a kick. A bit of spice is good.
Krista: To begin, the plate was very busy. The cake itself was not overworked which was good. I am missing something: salt. It was very spicy. Could be fantastic with more salt.
Derek: This was too spicy for me.

8. Empanadas filled with shrimp, chorizo, Manchego cheese, green olives and pimentos ($9.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.34
Combined Average Flavor Score: 6.34
Combined Average Score: 6.67

Selected Comments:
Kelly: Great presentation. Looks nice and flaky. The buttery, flaky crust was great, but didn’t get much of the filling in my sample.
Sarah: I don’t think I tasted enough of the filling to justify a true critique. The crust was flaky, buttery and delicious.
Krista: This dish is tasty and well balanced. Presentation seemed off, with such a small plate and large empanadas. Where are we? Italy? Spain?
Derek: There was no filling in my Empanada. I’m not very impressed.

9. Neapolitan Style Vegetable Pizza: forever-roasted mushrooms, bell peppers, onion and eggplant, baked with mozzarella and Romano cheese ($11.50)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.9
Combined Average Flavor Score: 8.0
Combined Average Score: 7.9

Selected Comments:
Kelly: Light sauce lets you pickup more flavor from vegetables. The crust is soft and crispy around the edges. Yum!
Sarah: Delicious! Sauce was light and clean. Crust was crisp, but slightly chewy, the perfect combination. Toppings were fresh and flavorful and it wasn’t too greasy.
Krista: I love the cheese combination, just wish there was more of it. The vegetables were great. I also wanted more of them. The crust is so spot on.
Brian: Very good crust. Evenly distributed ingredients. I just wanted more.
Derek: Great crust. Good, about what I would expect. The cheese leaves a little bit of a strong after taste, so you better like Romano.

10. Neapolitan Style Sausage Pizza: homemade Italian sausage with caramelized fennel and roasted mushrooms ($11.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 8.5
Combined Average Flavor Score: 9.17
Combined Average Score: 8.84

Selected Comments:
Krista: Being a girl form Chicago, this sausage pizza was fabulous. The sausage is so flavorful and delicious. Spot on, the crust is light and crispy. There was a little too much basil on this.
Brian: Wow! I think this is one of the top five pizzas of all time. But next time, hold the basil.
Derek: That sausage packs a punch. Nice and spicy Italian seasonings. This style is more balanced than the veggie pizza. Either way, wow!

11. Steak Panini: grilled steak served open-face, smothered with sautéed mushrooms, red peppers, onions and Muenster cheese, served with smoked black pepper aioli ($9.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.4
Combined Average Flavor Score: 8.0
Combined Average Score: 8.2

Selected Comment:
Kelly: I love steak sandwiches, and this one smells great! The steak is very tender and seasoned perfectly. The sweet potato fries that accompany this dish are much tastier than French fries. My favorite so far!
Sarah: This steak was so tender, cooked and seasoned perfectly. The onions and peppers were not mushy or limp, just to the desirable consistency. I like the combination of sweet potato and potato fries.
Krista: The components were well balanced making a great sandwich. Love the sweet potato fries and the dipping sauce was amazing!
Brian: The flavor of the steak was very nice. I felt that the panini needed to be more crusty.
Derek: Everyone has this on their menu, so nothing very surprising. The onions and peppers made it tough to eat.

12. Muffaletta Tramezzini with mortadella, salami, provolone and olive-pepper tapenade ($7.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.34
Combined Average Flavor Score: 6.5
Combined Average Score: 7.0

Selected Comments:
Kelly: This was an unexpected dish. I’m not a big fan of Italian meats, but these worked well with the style of cheese used. Even the olive tapenade added a special flavor.
Sarah: I felt this was not my cup of tea to begin with. The olives were too tangy, just too much for my taste.
Krista: I felt that this was a straightforward sandwich on a very busy plate. Great combination in my mouth. I really liked the tapenade. I would have liked a different style of bread.
Brian: Very cool-looking dish. The quality of ingredients is critical to a sandwich where they are so forward. Reminded me of one too-hot night in New Orleans, but that’s a different story.

13. Italian Club Panini with basil pesto, capicola, pepperoni, prosciutto, salami, arugula, tomatoes and provolone cheese served with roasted red pepper aioli (8.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 4.75
Combined Average Flavor Score: 7.83
Combined Average Score: 7.5

Selected Comments:
Kelly: Nothing too special about presentation. Looks like a normal sandwich and fries, but it was really good. Normally I’m not into Italian deli meat, but all were really good. I liked the pesto and spinach with it. The red pepper sauce was a nice compliment.
Sarah: The presentation is of pub fare, on the sloppy side. The meats are delicious and very flavorful.
Brian: This was a pretty disorganized plate, but the most powerful-flavored dish.
Derek: This plate is very “in your face.” It didn’t feel balanced. I only tasted the spicy meats. I rate this in the middle of the pack. It will be something you’re going to love or hate.

14. Design your own pasta: fusilli with dill pesto (dill, walnuts, olive oil and garlic) and salmon ($13.45)
Combined Average Presentation Score: 5.8
Combined Average Flavor Score: 3.8
Combined Average Score: 4.0

Selected Comments:
Kelly: The salmon was crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle, yummy. I am not a big fan of dill pesto at all. This kind of ruined the good salmon.
Sarah: I love the dill pesto; this was the highlight for me. The salmon tasted salty and overdone.
Krista: The salmon was crispy, which is how I like it. Huge plate though. I could never eat that much. This dish is very flavorful and well salted.
Brian: The pasta is very nice. Well shaped and tender, cooked wonderfully. The sauce was dry and heavy on dill and light on sauce. This dish let down the prep cook that made the noodles.
Derek: I thought the salmon was overcooked. The dill was over-the-top, and there was something that was just way off. I would send this back.

15. Design your own pasta: radiator carbonara with olive oil, pancetta, red onion, peas and egg yolk (7.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.3
Combined Average Flavor Score: 7.0
Combined Average Score: 6.7

Selected Comments:
Kelly: It’s hard to go wrong with bacon and cheese, but it was a little greasy. It is really good. Tastes like home cookin’.
Sarah: This dish seems a little oily. The bacon looked dried-out. The flavor was good, but this dish was nothing near spectacular.
Krista: I thought the pasta was great. The big pieces of pancetta and sweet onions were nice, but I was thinking the sauce was a little light.
Brian: This dish is pretty nice.
Derek: This pasta was overcooked and mushy. Using my imagination, I could see this being a great dish when executed correctly. The large chunks of pancetta had a great salty sweetness that I could crave.

16. Design your own pasta: gorgonzola sauce (red peppers, mushrooms, spinach, red onions, gorgonzola cheese and Alfredo sauce) with sausage and fettuccini ($12.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.2
Combined Average Flavor Score: 7.8
Combined Average Score: 7.6

Selected Comments:
Kelly: The gorgonzola is great; it really enhances the taste of the sauce. The sausage is a nice addition, but I would’ve preferred just vegetables.
Sarah: This sauce is very creamy and smooth, quite rich. The vegetables were just right, not too crunchy and not overdone. This is my top choice of the four pasta dishes selected.
Krista: The fresh pasta is very nice. The sauce needs to adhere to the pasta better but has a good flavor. I enjoyed the sausage and gorgonzola sprinkles.
Brian: Overall flavor is fantastic. This sausage is amazing. The pasta is a touch overdone though.
Derek: I would tire of the flavor halfway though the dish. Good, yet basic.

17. Design your own pasta: mango sauce (Alfredo sauce, mango puree, green onions and pimentos) quadratini with chicken ($13.45)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 5.8
Combined Average Flavor Score: 6.4
Combined Average Score: 6.4

Selected Comments:
Kelly: To start, I am not familiar with the spices, so I am not a big fan of this dish. Not a fan, actually. Yuck!
Sarah: Interesting flavor combination, the light fruit flavor with the spicy curry. It really doesn’t seem like much effort was made to garnish and present the pasta dishes in general.
Krista: This dish reminds me of an Indian curry. It’s very unique. The chicken was kind of boring on top, but it needed the chicken to balance the strong flavor of the sauce. The pasta is a great shape.
Brian: This dish is just cool. The mango seems out of place, but adventurous. The noodles are SUPER COOL. It is a nice kick. The chicken was cooked “spot on.”
Derek: Very fun and interesting, but again I would tire of the flavor quickly.

18. Design your own pasta: tomato basil sauce (tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and mozzarella) orecchiette ($4.95)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 6.9
Combined Average Flavor Score: 5.5
Combined Average Score: 5.7

Selected Comments:
Kelly: This dish was just a little too bland for me. It seems like it would be easy to make at home. Not a huge fan of this dish.
Sarah: The cheese seemed a bit rubbery. It could have been that it was a little cold. I was kind of disappointed considering the ingredients of this dish are some of my absolute favorites.
Krista: The oil in this dish was a little smoky, which was great on the fresh mozzarella. It will be excellent during tomato season.
Brian: Burnt oil permeated the dish. The noodles were not matched to the sauce that well. I disliked the dish.
Derek: The pasta was not properly cooked which was very disappointing. The tomatoes were too acidic and the mozzarella not tender. This tastes mass-produced.

19. Chocolate almond toffee mousse: chocolate mousse on a toffee almond crust, served in a pool of warm toffee sauce ($6.00)

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.5
Combined Average Flavor Score: 8.0
Combined Average Score: 7.7

Selected Comments:
Kelly: First of all, this is a huge portion. Holy cow! The chocolate is so rich. No way would I be able to eat all this, but it’s good, so share with a friend.
Sarah: Wow, so smooth, rich and creamy. I want to take a nap covered in blankets made of that cake.
Krista: This has a great crust with a nice combination between chocolate mousse and toffee. A dessert too large for one person. Is it humanly possible to eat a whole piece?
Brian: Pretty nice. This is a pizza joint though, right? Who eats dessert at a pizza joint?
Derek: Kind of an original, a very light and airy mousse. I really like the texture with a great nutty crust to counter the sweetness and add some crunch.

20. Tiramisu

Combined Average Presentation Score: 7.0
Combined Average Flavor Score: 7.67
Combined Average Score: 7.33

Kelly: This was good. I liked the fluffy layers of cream between the wafers.
Sarah: This is simple and classy. It tasted so light and fluffy, but flavorful! This is not how I would picture a typical or traditional tiramisu to be.
Krista: Very nice flavors with a soft texture.

Erik Totten

Erik Totten

Erik Totten is the founder and publisher of Food & Spirits Magazine in Omaha, Nebraska. He’s worked in publications for the last 21 years at all levels. As well as serving as a writer, designer, photographer and editor, he’s also founded two publications which have allowed him to grow into being a publisher, which he would describe as his ‘true calling’.


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