Every now and then I feel really lucky to write this blog, usually because it gives me a reason to try new restaurants when I hear about them, and, very rarely, because I discover a true gem in doing so. I was recently invited to be a guest at Primo Ristorante Italiano, and I can’t wait to return.
Before I write about our experience, I’d like to direct you to another write-up on Primo, if for no other reason than all of the awesome pictures of the restaurant and its staff. I snap pictures of my food mainly as a quick reference, but in this blog post you’ll see just how elegant Primo is. I’ll admit that, as parents of a 4 year-old with no family in town, we don’t often eat at restaurants like Chef Bruce Bogartz’s new establishment, but after the meal we enjoyed the other night, I’m thinking we need to find a sitter more often.
Location, Location, Location
Please do click through to see the pictures in the write-up I mention above - I’ll wait. Now I’ll admit something that may come as a shock: I’ve lived in Knoxville since 1993 and the first time I stepped foot in the Sun Sphere was last week in March of 2016. I’ve walked by it and around it numerous times, but never had a reason to enter it. The view from our table was beautiful, especially as the even progressed and night fell.
I’d never had the pleasure of meeting Chef Bruce Bogartz until last week. He’s a great guy - obviously passionate about what he does and proud of what he, or his family (more on that later) creates. He was very nice to us and I observed him stopping by each table as diners arrived for the evening. Conversing with the owners of some of the restaurants is a common thing for us, but this is the first time I got to do that with a chef at such an elegant establishment.
The Star of the Show
We started off with some delightful biscuits - both fluffy and crispy in all the right places. The house-made pesto they were served with was outstanding.
For our appetizer, we selected the Truffle Fundata. We might have been a bit more adventerous if it had just been my wife and I, but with a four year-old to share with, we decided on something we could present to him as similar to other appetizers he’s had. The fundata was delicious, and it complimented the bread, broccoli, and chips.
Chef Bruce wanted us to try a variety of food, so he whipped up some D’oro Patata Gnocchi for us. This was delicious in such a decadant way that, had I been by myself and not worried about what anyone might think of me, I would have asked for another bowl of it. The pears were firm and sweet and the gorgonzola cream, especially with the walnuts, made me think I had skipped to dessert. Everything I had that night was wonderful, but this little dish is the one thing I’ll keep coming back to.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to at least try one of the pasta dishes. Chef Bruce explained that the pasta was offered in a small or large portion, which made the choice easier for me as it meant I could also try another dish that piqued my interest. I selected the Cannelloni Piccolo, and I’m glad I did. My wife and I shared it, and for it to be the small version, it was a good amount of food. This was a thought we had repeatedly throughout the meal, that the portions weren’t what we’re used to at upscale restaurants - tasty but too small.
The duck confit in the Cennelloni was delicious, and while this isn’t the sort of dish I’d normally order, I was so glad to have tried it. I told Chef Bruce that night that I could eat it every day, and I could.
For my entree, I ordered the Pork Chop Vesuvio. The pork chop itself was enormous and very tender. I shared a goodly-sized slice of it with my wife, and as I reached my last couple of bites, I felt a tiny pang of regret at my generosity. The pork chop alone would have been great, but it was covered with house-made sausge that itself was incredible, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Served on top of polenta, it was a symphony of tastes and textures.
My wife ordered the Chicken Nona for herself and to share with our son. She liked it, he liked it, and to the extent that I was given a couple of small bites to try, I really enjoyed it as well. The carmelized onion and lemon combined to the tender juciness of the chicken itself.
Keeping it in the Family
For our first dessert, we had the Cannoli Cake. Chef Bruce told us how his fifteen year-old daughter had learned to make it and came by the restaurant three days a week to prepare it. The pride in his face and voice were moving, especially to the father in me, and that pride was backed up by the outstanding dessert we were served. Our son loved it, and we both deeply enjoyed it as well, at least as much of it as he was willing to share with us. I’m not normally a huge fan of chocolate, but I’d make an exception for this any day.
Our second dessert was Rice Pudding with amaretto and apricots. This was more my speed and after letting my wife try it, I kept the rest of to myself. And no, I’m not a bad father - my boy is just too young to turn away from chocolate to anything else!
A Truly Delightful Experience
Before dinner, as we were early and needed to encourage our son to work out some of his limitless supply of energy, we parked across the street by the convention center. When we return to Primo for a romantic dinner in the near future, we’ll take advantage of the valet parking, especially since the maitre d’ pointed out that, had we done that on this visit, they’d have the car waiting for us after our meal.
I look forward to our next visit to Primo Ristorante Italiano. If you’re looking for a new place to have an awesome meal, I can whole-heartedly recommend it.