A Taste of ItalyDec 01, 2019 ● By Amy Richmond
Once we passed through the parking lot and the typical strip-mall door, the scene quickly transformed to a chic, warm atmosphere. The clean black and white lines of the chairs were softened by the warm tones of the wood-topped tables, wood floors and embossed tile ceilings. A black, crocodile-backed booth ran the full length of the restaurant with an exotic flair that invited flexibility in seating and gave a nod to big Italian family gatherings, where conversations can linger for hours. Spots of color included the blue accent walls and decorative tiles surrounding the bar and the hostess desk. There was a red Coca-Cola® refrigerator standing tall with its selection of desserts to go. The bar was well-lit, fully-stocked and punctuated with two unusually unobtrusive televisions. Before long, every bar stool was taken, and we soon found out why.
The hostess quickly escorted us to our table along the crocodile booth, handed us our menus, which sported the red, white and green markings of Italian heritage, and then revealed a surprise. Despite being Saturday night, Gallo Nero was in the middle of its happy hour from 4-7 p.m. Cue the instant smile on my husband’s face! In fact, Gallo Nero hosts a happy hour Tuesday through Sunday, from 4-7 p.m., with $3 beers, $4 house wines and $5 cocktails. Needless to say, it was a great way to start the evening.
My husband chose to order a Smoked Old Fashioned with Old Forester Rye®, Luxardo Cherries and Simple Syrup. If you are looking for a strong, smoky drink to light your house fires, this is the one! I, on the other hand, took a risk on the Grapefruit Martini with Nue Vodka, grapefruit juice, sugar, lemon and elderflower served with a sprig of smoked rosemary. I was a bit nervous it would pack a pucker punch, since I typically prefer sweet drinks, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found it just sweet enough and quite refreshing, without that typical grapefruit bite.
While we mulled over the menu, our waitress brought warm rolls and butter to the table, but neither of us bothered with the butter. Those buttery rolls with a hint of garlic were just right on their own.
Appetizers ranged from Bruschetta ($9) and Garlic Bread ($6) to Fried Calamari ($12) and Ahi Tuna ($13), but I opted for classic Cheese Sticks ($8). Don’t judge! I had sworn off counting calories for the night, and it had been way too long since I had indulged in those slivers of breaded, melted cheese dipped in warm marinara. I savored every bite. My husband, however, went for the more refined version of this delectable cheese: Mozzarella Caprese ($11). There is something about the combination of thick slices of mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar that he cannot resist. Between that and the drink, he was already on cloud nine, and we had not even had our entrées yet.
And, what a dilemma choosing those entrées presented. With 30 entrées divided into pasta ($9-$14), chicken ($14-$15), veal ($17) and seafood ($16-$19) selections, as well as hot subs ($10), calzones ($10), Stromboli ($12) and a large selection of pizzas ($11-26), we had a tough time choosing just one. This, of course, meant we would have to come back to try some more. But, for the time being, I chose the Tour of Italy ($14), so I could at least try three different options: lasagna with classic marinara, cheese ravioli with alfredo sauce and tortellini alla panna. From there, I just had a hard time choosing which would be my final bite. The lasagna was packed with meat sauce and had that classic zing of spices. The ravioli was stuffed with soft cheese and covered in a silky, smooth alfredo sauce. And the tri-colored tortellini won the contest, at least this time, with its tangy vodka sauce and al dente swirls of cheese and pasta.
My husband opted for the Lobster Ravioli ($18) which consisted of five plump shrimp and four large, lobster-stuffed ravioli reveling in a cream vodka sauce. Having had my own vodka sauce with my tortellini, I can attest that his vodka sauce had the distinct flavor of lobster, which added to his seafood nirvana. He professed it was an excellent combination of flavors. In addition, he found the entrée filling but not overly heavy like some Italian entrees can be.
I must say, at this point, we were flying through our meal – and not because we had thrown all etiquette to the wind. Service was simply always right on time, down to the last bite of each course. The moment we finished one food item, our next dish was seamlessly placed before us without any sense of urgency or pressure to change our speed of consumption. We were really quite impressed. By the time we had finished our entrées and were considering dessert, we were well ahead of our evening’s scheduled activities.
With five options for dessert, including Cannoli ($5), Cheesecake ($6) and Spumoni Ice Cream ($7), our decision was much easier to make. And we both proved to be completely predictable. The lover of tiramisu chose, you guessed it, the Tiramisu ($7). And the lover of chocolate naturally chose the Chocolate Mousse Cake ($7). Neither of us could conquer them completely and had to acquiesce to a take-home box to be enjoyed a second time around.
Once we had completed our culinary journey, we realized every table and bar stool in the restaurant had been filled. Tables were laden with the opulence of Italian delicacies, and it was hard not to eye your neighbor’s table to see what you might be missing. While making a mental note of what to try next time, we noticed a relaxed but upbeat mood had permeated the dining room, with bits of laughter sprinkled here and there. Clearly, Gallo Nero has quickly established its place in the Frisco dining scene since its July 10 opening earlier this year.
Incidentally, Gallo Nero (which means “black rooster”) is an Italian symbol for pride, power and victory due to a classic legend that finally settled an ongoing dispute between Florence and Sienna for the treasured Chianti region halfway between the two cities. As the story goes, both cities agreed to send a lone horseman from their capital at the first crow of a previously chosen rooster and wherever the two horsemen met would become the final border line. Sienna chose a white rooster and Florence chose a black rooster they kept in cage on an empty stomach. When the black rooster was finally released, it was so exasperated it crowed well before dawn, giving Florence’s horseman a significant head start and Florence a greater portion of the Chianti region. And, so, the legend reveals how a seemingly commonplace animal became a famous symbol of Italian pride.
Similarly, Gallo Nero may seem commonplace on the outside, but the pride of Italy is definitely extolled inside. Gallo Nero’s tag line is “nothing fancy, just great Italian food,” and they pride themselves on “simple ingredients, homemade cooking and welcoming hospitality. It is that simple.”
So, as you tour the dining scene of Frisco this season, be sure to add Gallo Nero Italian Bistro to your list and arrive in time for happy hour. It is, after all, the season to celebrate and be jolly!