By Noah Lopez

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Over the past few months, Tucson has been blessed with the opening of several new bistros around town, all offering food and drink to a more upscale crowd at modest prices.

These new venues, Cuppucino's, Cafe Milagro and Pronto being the biggies, have in turn been awarded the same hip status afforded to the downtown coffee shops and cafes, yet with the same recognition for food excellence given to the more upscale Tucson restaurants.

I assumed that Pronto would more than ably fulfill those expectations, especially in light of its noble Bocatta bloodline, and with this in mind I had high hopes for the first restaurant to grace the columns of Culinary Corner, my first foray into the world of restaurant reviews.

Unfortunately, maybe my hopes were too high. It had taken me a while to visit the restaurant, yet I kept putting it off. Now that I had an excuse to finally eat there, there were months of anticipation that had built up for the occasion.

By the time my friend and I entered the hallowed halls of Pronto, I was prepared for a full-fledged fine Italian feast, similar to that offered by the parent restaurant. Looking around, I figured I must be right.

After all, Pronto is located in a building formerly occupied by Colonel Sanders, and there isn't that much you can do with the layout of a KFC, right? So, the money that would normally be spent on fancy remodeling would be saved and the savings passed on to the fine-dining but on-the-go public.

Looking at the menu also bolstered these hopes. Pronto indeed offers much more than, say, the Great Impasta Express, and much of it high-minded. While it is possible to get a simple pasta with marinara sauce at Pronto, there is so much more, it would be silly to limit yourself. Pronto offers a wide array of sandwiches, pizzas and salads, as well as pastas with a variety of sauces.

From this array, my friend and I settled on an order of tri-color fusilli with a parmesan porcini sauce, an order of vegetable lasagna, a caesar salad, an order of foccacia, and an order of garlic bread.

The meal turned out to be somewhat of an exercise in Taoism. The excellent elements were set off by the average, or less than average, elements. For instance, the breads.

The garlic bread arrived with a more-than-healthy smattering of blackness on the crust. The burnt edges hinted at the toughness of the overcooked bread, which was not helped by the lack of garlic butter to overcome it.

On the other hand, the order of focaccia (about 80 cents) was heavenly. As I ate the warm, soft cheesy bread, I pictured myself coming back to Pronto just to get an order of the focaccia. It was incredible. I didn't share it with my friend, leaving her with the garlic crust.

The caesar salad was also a delight. The simple salad was accompanied by ample amounts of toasted bread croutons, and served with Bocatta's excellent (very anchovyish) caesar dressing (about $2). We had gotten the salad as an afterthought, but it quickly joined the focaccia in my thoughts of returning.

My tri-color pasta (about $4.50) arrived in a bowl, and I eagerly dug in, more than happily aroused by the salad and bread. Here, the meal began to falter. It was obvious that the pasta wasn't the freshest, and the somewhat lukewarm sauce had a reheated consistency to it. This was unfortunate because the sauce was otherwise excellent, with huge chunks of wild porcini mushrooms making up for the feel of a more gourmet meal.

No such luck with my friend's lasagna. At this point, I actually felt bad for her, as she was shouldering most of the brunt of our Taoist excursion. Her lasagna ($4.50) was completely unremarkable. It's strange that a restaurant that utilizes so much invention in its other dishes can do nothing to spice up the cliched vegetable lasagna that most Tucson cafes and bistros serve. Aren't there other vegetables besides eggplant and zucchini that would go well in a lasagna?

In addition, her lasagna was obviously reheated, as evidenced by the dried-out chunks of cheese that had separated from the rest of the lasagna.

At this point, I began reconsidering my expectations of the restaurant. It dawned on me that I had a pretty good meal, especially for five or six bucks. In fact, figuring in the inestimable wealth of the salad and focaccia, I had a great meal for five or six bucks. The lesser components of our meal, in fact, were found in our less ambitious choices. With all the great dishes to try, why did we limit ourselves to a vegetable lasagna? Or garlic bread?

With this in mind, I fully visualized the next time we would go back, and we will, for the bread and salad and to try Pronto's more daring dishes. You should do the same. Read Next Article