Princi Italia's Tuscan Trip Up

Princi Italia tries to please everyone and ends up pleasing -- everyone but us, it seems.

Yes, it's the kitchen where the trouble starts. Owner Patrick Colombo, who also owns Victory Tavern, Ferre and other restaurants, tapped chef Kevin Ascolese to run the kitchen after they worked together to launch Cru Wine Bar, another Colombo creation. Ascolese helped open the Dallas spot and then subsequent locations in Denver and Houston.

Ascolese's track record extends even further back than that, though. He moved to Dallas in 1980 to help open The Mansion at Turtle Creek, where he worked as a poissonnier under Dean Fearing before shifting to other positions in a kitchen that embodied classic French cuisine. But you can't take the Italy out of an Italian, and after bouncing around Ascolese put in time at Sfuzzi and Mi Piaci, where he honed his native craft.

At Princi Italia, Ascolese told me, he sought to create a menu that resonated with the dining room meant to invoke the Italian countryside. He wanted the food to "be a little upscale but not expensive." The focus, according to the chef, was on volume — not on high end.

Some restraint could save the fig and Gorgonzola bruschetta at Princi Italia.
Sara Kerens
Some restraint could save the fig and Gorgonzola bruschetta at Princi Italia.

Location Info


Princi Italia

5959 Royal Lane
Dallas, TX 75230

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: North Dallas


Princi Italia
Burrata $9
Fig and Gorgonzola
Bruschetta $6
Margherita pizza $13
Tagliatelle bolognese $14
Ravioli di formaggi $12
Veal saltimbocca $19
Veal carciofi $18

But volume doesn't have to preclude quality — and it certainly didn't in that bolognese, a perfect example of utilitarian Italian cooking. Ascolese told me the recipe leveraged beef and pork ground fresh in house, supplemented with kitchen scraps of prosciutto when they were available. There was no sacrifice made in that cannoli either, which demonstrated a kitchen more than capable of thoughtful execution.

From there, though, the menu meanders from thoughtless offerings that wouldn't challenge the most timid palates to dishes that completely underwhelm. Ravioli is tough and filled with a boring and runny cheese filling, and veal saltimbocca eats like a nap. Translated literally, the dish should "jump in your mouth," but buried under a blanket of fontina cheese and a sauce laden with butter, the bland cutlet is put to sleep instead.

With the comfortable dining room and staff, I could picture myself lounging through a meal that runs for hours, sipping on wine and nibbling on charcuterie and brined salty olives, and closing with beautiful, small desserts and dark chocolaty espresso. But a timid menu devoid of risks brings that fantasy to a halt, with dishes straight out of an Italian-American cliché. Despite that beautiful bolognese, there are, for now, no Tuscan dreams here.

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With the thousands of restaurants in Dallas it would be nice if the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer reviewed different establishments instead exactly the same ones week after week.


So did you order an ironic beer? Dude, you eat Combos.


Welcome to Dallas italian food. The restaurant was the site of a previous ersatz Italian place (Popolo's)and Sfuzzi and Mi Piaci are hardly places where the Italian craft can be finely honed. The place was full because HP/UP/Bluffview patrons will eat anywhere nearby, especially if they can bring their children with them while having a few at the bar--think Mi Cocina. Over on Sidedish a while back I expressed skepticism of this concept and many, many proclaimed this chef "the real deal" and "sure knows how to cook Italian." Lot's of way post-MILF girl crushes for the guy.

But Dallas is a big Italian jinx. Nonna and Lucia have beat it, but no one else has. There used to be a great place on Henderson called Valentino. It was run by Vincenzo and his brother from Bari. The brother and wife ran the kitchen, Vincenzo ran the front. Very much like Big Night. The brother, wife and the rest of the kitchen were no english italian speakers. After a couple of years the brother got sick of special requests for meatballs, and complaints of the lack of sauce, why the seafood lasagne doesn't have the cheese topping with red sauce, etc. and went back to Bari. Soon after Vincenzo followed him. Now they run a hotel on the Adriatic and Dallas is still without a real deal Italian place that is affordable and doesn't require reservations.

There are some half decent compromises: Jimmy's sandwiches, the italian at the Loon (yes, and I don't just mean the pizza, which is also good), Nothing else comes to mind. I had pasta at Coal vines recently and there was so much tomato sauce it looked like soup.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

Italian, or Italian American? As much as I love to gush about authentic anything, I'm really a big lover of red sauce, Chianti, and red check table cloths. I like them both, but I'm worried that Maggiano's might provide the best example of the latter, here. I haven't spent too much time exploring Italian American yet, but I will. But I can only eat so much... And right now a bag of Combos is calling my name.


Even the Americanized Italian is rough. Try Cremona and the Loon.