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Dining is about more than great food at Azzurro

More Than a Meal

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[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)Tucked in the fashionable River Road shopping center, seems like the quintessential West End restaurant. It's informal but stylish, with professional service and prices high enough to denote "fine cuisine" for those whose palates might not otherwise know. Indeed, it seems to cater to that rare audience for whom higher prices make the fare even more attractive. But the food here — high-end Italian — is good; some of it very good. Our starters turned out to be the highlights of our meal. Azzurro's kitchen breathed life into the ubiquitous fresh tomato-mozzarella salad with the addition of fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella. The mozzarella was superb - nicely seasoned, with a melt-in-your-mouth creamy texture and a pleasant hint of gaminess. Unfortunately, the tomatoes were of the mealy supermarket variety - an oversight that borders on the unforgivable for a $10.95 special. Our other starter, Grigliata Di Verdura Con Aglio e Olio ($9.25) was the exquisite product of well-executed simple techniques applied to common ingredients. Sliced zucchini, endive, eggplant, tomatoes and portabellos were each grilled to their respective points of perfection and then lightly dressed with flavorful olive oil and lemon juice. Lots of restaurants do grilled vegetables but few of them do it well. Here, Azzurro scored big points. Somebody on the staff fumbled on our entrée order. [image-2](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)Not until after we had finished our starters did the manager arrive to gravely inform us in low tones that the kitchen could not offer pizza that evening because "the dough had been a problem" - as if, perhaps, the dough had arrived drunk for work and had been asked to leave. Disappointed though we were to forego the brick oven pizza, there were plenty of other enticing options. In its place, we tried the Fettuccini Con Caprino ($13.50), a dish that involved fresh fettuccini, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and herbs. The fresh fettuccini was appealingly heavy and chewy, if a tad overcooked. Overall, it would have been a satisfying dish had it not been for the errant piece of plastic wrap that we discovered nestled in the fettuccini. Our other entrée came free of plastics. The Costolette D'Agnello Alla Mintuccia ($24.99) comprised four grilled lamb rib chops with a tart lemon mint dressing that nicely accented the excellent flavor of the lamb. The kitchen cooked the meat to a perfect medium rare, but could have trimmed the chops a little better. At $25 a plate, the "eye" of the chop ought to arrive ripe for the plucking - straight from the bone to mouth. As accompaniments, delicious sweet carrots and potatoes cooked in light cream were testaments to the kitchen's laudable attention to detail. [image-3](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)Azzurro's dessert selection is, I expect, their solution to not having a pastry chef on staff. And it's a pretty good solution, too. They offer numerous interesting sorbets and ice creams with a smattering of classic desserts like tira misu. We tried the tasty coconut sorbet ($6.50), which was presented in a half coconut shell, and the impressive Bomba ($6.50), which was a large sphere of chocolate and vanilla ice cream encased in hard chocolate with a cherry center. There is no doubt that Azzurro serves good food. On our visit they goofed on the pizza dough, but they graciously did the right thing by making the replacement dish complimentary. Unfortunately, someone goofed on that dish as well. The service is professional and the atmosphere is nice. I struggle with the appropriateness of the prices, but then when you eat at Azzurro, perhaps you are buying more than just a

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