I was pleasantly surprised with my visit to Piazza di Vino. Not that I expected it to be bad, but prior to early December, I didn't even know Piazza di Vino existed.
The premise for Piazza di Vino is evident in its name. In Italy a "piazza" is the center of public life. This is exactly what the restaurant at the Ninth Street location strives to do be, and it does so with a setup in which form follows function—and the functions of this restaurant are diverse.
The downstairs serves as a quaint cafe that offers pizzas, salads, sandwiches and, of course, wine. The shop is replete with checkerboard floors, bottles of wine on the walls, a number of small tables and a slick built-in sofa running the length of the north wall. A stairway leading upstairs serves as a transition between the charming dining space below and the cavernous loft space above. Along the walls of the stairway are framed photographs and paintings—art that most people would call quite good. The artist is Giuseppe Saitta, and for now, the second floor space at Piazza di Vino serves as Saitta's permanent gallery and is aptly dubbed "Galleria Saitta."
The wine selection at Piazza di Vino is varied and impressive; all of the wines carry a score of 94 or higher. Price by the glass varies from $7 to $11, and glass choices include 15 reds, 13 whites and four sparklings. There is a truckload of different wines available by the bottle. My dining partner and I decided on a glass of the Argentine Gascon malbec ($8/glass). It was a smasher of a wine and a great warmup from the cold weather.
For dinner my friend chose an avocado salad ($7.95) while I opted for a caprese pizza ($7.95). Our food arrived in about 10 minutes and with it came a small group of our friends. Two of them stayed the course from their previous location and had beer (Piazza di Vino has around a dozen beers available by the bottle but none on tap), while the other two had glasses of wine. My friend Jessica, who used to work in a Ketchum-area wine bar, was impressed to find one of her favorites, a Gianni Gagliardo Fallegro from Italy ($9/glass). I half expected it to taste like 7-Up, but it was actually delightful, with just the right amount of "frizzante."
The overriding impression of dinner was that it was extremely fresh. It is the middle of December in Idaho, and my friend's salad had the one of the best avocados I've seen in over a year. The salad was a smart mix of grape tomatoes, greens, avocado, a dollop of ricotta cheese and honey Dijon dressing. The tomatoes were also extremely fresh, and I was tempted to reach across the table and pick them off the salad one by one. My pizza was a simple pleasure consisting of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil—three flavors that I could, with the kind addition of chocolate, gladly live on forever. I handed off a slice to my friend who took a bite and remarked how unbelievably fresh it tasted. I found out later that the owners of Piazza di Vino shop for their produce daily at the Karcher Ranch Market in Nampa.
After dinner we ventured up to the second floor to have a look around. There was a private party going on featuring live music (Boise's James Orr) and a gathering of college students. The upstairs space was lined with art, couches and people; it was a great juxtaposition to the intimate cafe below. Saitta's current display is one that appears to be a study of human form. And I learned that Piazza di Vino often has DJs spinning house music on weekend nights. A "piazza" indeed.
—It took Ryan Peck five minutes to realize that in one of Saitta's nudes, he was looking at a photograph of a belly button.