Vito's is owned by the chef and his two partners, Bill Hockridge and retired dentist Dr. Jerry Klein. Just about any time you visit the restaurant you can expect to find Vito in the kitchen cooking up every dish "a la minute" and at least one of the other owners greeting customers at the front door or at the bar. That bar is a highlight of the remodeled interior and turns what was once a fairly sterile dining space into a clubby wine bar with the muted strains of opera wafting from the speakers to offer even more atmosphere.
Since Chef Vito cooks every single diner's meal at the time of order, service is a little more leisurely than you might expect from your everyday pizza joint. The quality is worth the wait rather than having to endure pasta scooped from a communal pot and slathered in sauce that was made who knows when. If you're in more of a hurry, consider the pizza/pasta and salad buffet Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. It's only $7 and the dishes are made in smaller batches and rotated frequently to ensure that they are still hot and fresh when you go back for seconds. (Or thirds.)
The dinner menu is divided into the traditional Italian courses of primi piatti (hot or cold), secondi and pasta, and large entrees. Diners can choose to mix and match and share plates between any of these categories. A short, but well-selected wine list offers affordable pairings by the glass to go with each course. I tried the Scallops Florentine as a starter and was impressed by the delicate sear on the scallops and the unexpected addition of shiitake mushrooms to the broth at the bottom of the plate.
The Caesar salad also had a few pleasant surprises with sun-dried tomatoes and creamy goat cheese added to the traditional romaine and creamy Caesar dressing. Entrees range from seafood to veal, pork and beef. Vito's Filleto di Manzo was an excellent preparation of a beef tenderloin, served Oscar-style along with a Marsala reduction.
Desserts feature a very nice tiramisu served in a demitasse cup, as well as a Sicilian cannoli. Vito's hopes to soon add some authentic gelatos to round out the menu.
The ambiance at Vito's is comfortable, yet still a little more formal than the pizza parlor vibe of DaVinci's. They hope to expand their happy hour and hold some more wine tastings to introduce diners to their new wine bar. Diners who are intimidated by Hayes Street parking need only circle around behind the building where they will find a good-sized parking lot off the alley. Drop by some time on the way home from work to enjoy a nice glass of Chianti and some fine Italian music and dining. We all could use a little more culture.
Vito's Ristorante & Wine Bar at 1812. 1812 Hayes St. (321-3700).