Cooking with love – Ti Amo |

Cooking with love – Ti Amo

Wren Wertin

When Massimo Perucchini and Steve Negler get together, the talk is inevitably food. Whether reminiscing about the dishes of their childhood, evaluating which marsala tastes better in a pasta dish or simply speaking about their latest favorites, the two never seem to tire of the subject. It’s a good thing, too, as they are the co-owners of Ti Amo Ristorante in Eagle Vail.

Voted best Italian restaurant by the Vail Daily’s readers’ poll seven years running, and coziest restaurant last season, Ti Amo is an established favorite.

Started by Perucchini’s father, Enzo, Ti Amo hasn’t changed much over the years. The walls are painted with colorful scenes, the staff is friendly and a trip to the restroom includes a lesson in Italian. The food, too, still reflects the fare of Northern Italy. Perucchini was born in Verona, a place known for its gnocchi, seafood and lighter sauces, all of which can be found at Ti Amo.

In addition to an ever-changing soup of the day – if it sounds good, it is – the appetizer menu includes mostly seafood and vegetable options. Topping the list is the funghi e polenta ($7.95), marinated and grilled portabella mushrooms sauteed with red onion and pancetta and served over grilled polenta. The sauce is thick and savory, a good match for the meatiness of the mushrooms, and the polenta offers a nice change of texture. This appetizer isn’t good for continuous conversation, as everyone will stop talking and commence eating until it’s gone.

Another standard is the traditional bruschetta ($5.95), grilled bread with garlic, tomatoes, fresh basil and feta cheese. The carciofo alla griglia ($7.95), or grilled artichoke halves, are served with a roasted garlic remoulade. They put a spin on the traditional calamari fritti ($7.95) by serving it with fried spinach as well as squid.

Though Perucchini spent years in the Ti Amo kitchen in the early days, he’s primarily up front now. Fernando Ocampo is the chef. Trained by Enzo himself, he claims to know all the secrets.

“American food – I don’t like it,” he said. “It’s too easy to cook. Italian food, it takes a while. You have to put a lot flavor and love in it.”

Ocampo is the brain behind the daily specials. Sometimes arriving in his mind fully formed, and sometimes created only after he’s rummaged around in the kitchen, Ocampo enjoys the realm of food as much as the owners do. Negler has been in the food business for 20 years, as has Perucchini.

“The food business is immediately satisfying,” said Negler. “When someone is hugging you on the way out the door saying it’s the best meal they’ve ever had, you know you did o.k. We never get tired of compliments.”

If Ti Amo had a signature dish, it would be petti di pollo alle fragole ($17.95), a chicken breast pan sauteed with red onions, crushed red peppers, brandy cream and fresh strawberries, served over angel hair pasta. The creaminess of the sauce is cut by the tang of the berries, which retain their sweetness. Perucchini and his father developed the dish together years ago.

For those firm in the decision to over-indulge, the gnocchi principessa ($15.95) is a good choice. Made with spinach, potatoes, carrots and parmesan cheese, the delectable gnocchi come with two sauce options: fresh basil, marinera and mozzarella cheese, or (for the ultimate in self-indulgence) gorgonzola cream sauce.

Other menu items include salmone marco polo ($17.95), grilled salmon with a sweet and spicy sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables, pasta gamberretti e pinoli ($18.95), jumbo shrimp sauteed with garlic, mushrooms, spinach and pine nuts in a white wine lemon butter sauce over angel hair pasta, or involtino di pollo ($17.95), chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, garlic and proscuitto and topped with a chianti sauce, served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach.

For those with a sweet tooth, the nutella crepe is both fruity and chocolaty. A traditional crepe, stuffed with nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) and fresh strawberries, is accompanied by vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. A coffee drink or a shot of lemon cello lends the finishing touch to the meal.

Ti Amo Ristorante is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and for dinner from 4 p.m. until close. All prices reflect the dinner menu. Reservations recommended at night. For more information call the restaurant at (970) 845-8153.

Vail Colorado

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