Café Vico is bigger by one whole room since then. The menu has remained relatively static over the years, as has its big list of interesting Italian wines, but each night offers a lively array of specials -- the osso buco, a couple of fish dishes, two or three special pastas, and an extra appetizer or two.
We started our meal with heavy white rolls dipped in a bowl of garlicky, herbed olive oil, a few sips of Super Tuscan ($8.50, served by the glass), a special salad made with fresh mango, orange slices, strawberries, blueberries, and mixed greens ($9.95), and a bowl of pasta in fagioli ($4.95). This time around, I was a little disappointed with my salad. I've perfected a replica of Vico's special salad at home, with a few variations. I make mine with goat cheese, blueberries, walnuts, and cider dressing -- but the point is, I stole it from the master. This salad was pretty pricey for a plate of greens and fruit. The oranges and other fruit had a slightly metallic off-taste that marred what should have been a delightful, fresh, early-summer salad (mangoes, as we know, are the consolation prize God provides us for living through August in Florida).
Our pasta in fagioli was classic, thin ribbons of pasta in a base fragrant with tomato and bits of pancetta, white beans, and melt-in-your-mouth escarole; if this soup could talk, it would say, "Buon appetito!"
A plate of eight big ravioli, stuffed with chicken, diced grilled peppers, and ricotta ($17.95) and sauced with fat black cherries in a superb creamy red wine reduction, was outstanding. The pastas are really the thing at Vico; if you go and don't order one, you're just not getting what this place is about. So often they're decorative as well as delicious, striped with squid ink, spinach or beet juice, or multicolored strands tossed together, like the green and white papardelle. In this case, wide strips of pink in the center of each ravioli picked up the color of the cherries and wine -- a tart-sweet marriage that had us oohing and ahhing, contrasted with the peppery chicken center and those deliciously al dente sheets of pasta.
My big grilled tuna steak ($29.95), lightly salted, cooked rare in the center as requested, was a fine piece of fish given a bit of pizzazz with sour hearts of palm, chunks of tomato, and diced baby asparagus spears. It was very good, but the accompanying vegetables -- a rather plain piece of broccoli and a ho-hum pool of sweet potatoes -- didn't, I think, add much in either presentation or flavor. And the price tag was a bit of a surprise -- I'd suggest that servers price at least the most expensive dishes when they rattle off the specials. Virtuous as I felt with my high-protein, carb-free entrée, I'd never take this route again. Next time, it's the lasagna Bolognese for me ($16.95), or the spaghetti Bugati with jumbo shrimp ($21.95) or that amazing agnolotti rosa ($15.95), a dish I still crave whenever I'm feeling jumpy or sad -- it's an edible massage, psychotherapy session, and hot bath in pasta form.
We loved our chilled chocolate mousse pie ($7.95), a stroke of airy delicacy that's an ideal ending for what tends to be a heavy meal. Vico's usually serves a complimentary glass of sambucca with dessert, but not this time, and we missed it.
I came away with the feeling that Café Vico is dealing with a growth spurt that may have thrown my long-time favorite ever so slightly off balance. The place is much bigger now, and Vico is spending mornings and afternoons at Vico's Downtown, which may occasionally mean lapses in the kitchen or front of the house. Those lapses are so minor that they almost don't bear mentioning. Our bill came to $120 for two with tip and a couple of glasses of wine, so this restaurant is still in the moderate range, relatively, in a town where the privilege of dining out never comes cheap. Until Café Vico gets back up on its toes -- operating at peak flavor and performance -- I'd go for the fresh pastas (an incredible value), their famous osso buco and other veal dishes, which never disappoint, and the shellfish. And I'd go for the comforting surety of being well taken care of, which has never wavered.