Dinner in a suburban Italian restaurant is rarely worth a one-hour wait. But it is when it comes to Facci, the first restaurant in Ellicott City's new Turf Valley shopping center.
The restaurant, which opened in September, is named after owner Gino Palma's wife, Pilar; Facci is his pet name for her. Palma's concept is straightforward: high-quality Italian food (Palma hails from Naples), professional service and a sophisticated but comfortable atmosphere. On these, Facci delivers.
Service On a recent Sunday night, dozens of would-be diners milled around Facci's entrance, waiting for their plastic pagers to announce that their tables were ready.
The hostess correctly estimated that our wait would be about one hour, giving us plenty of time to notice that only about half the tables were filled.
Over the phone, a hostess explained the strategy behind that move: much of Facci's wait staff is new and management didn't want to overwhelm them. Though we overheard some grumbling from hungry people, Palma's take-it-slow approach was smart. Once we sat, our service, which came from several waiters tag-teaming our table, was well-timed and well-informed.
Scene & Decor When we finally made it inside, our eyes needed a minute to adjust to the light. Our booth sat in a shadowy corner of the restaurant — it was moody but a few shades too dark.
Once we could see, the view was fantastic. In the center of the space, an open kitchen, ringed by bar seats, was dominated by an enormous wood-burning oven. The oven's bulbous shape, which had a decidedly "Jetsons" vibe, was echoed by retro light fixtures and, in a small lounge near the bar, a floating fireplace. To the side of the kitchen, one impressive wall was floor-to-ceiling glass, encasing hundreds of bottles of wine.
Here and there, design elements seemed contrived. Was the velvet rope really a necessary boundary for the lounge area? Were the fancy bathroom sinks, with their hard-to-operate faucets, worth it? Probably not, on both counts. But for the most part, Facci's mid-century style was cool, rather than pretentious.
Drinks Our first order of business was choosing a bottle of wine. With 475 bottles available — some of them quite expensive — the wine list was intimidating. Fortunately, the first page recommended the red wine of the month, the Guidobono Barbera d'Alba ($36; $33 with special). Well-balanced and fruity, it was lovely with both pizza and pasta.
Appetizer The stuffed eggplant ($12), two slices of eggplant, rolled and stuffed with ricotta and spinach, sauced with marinara and covered with melted mozzarella cheese, tasted like our best memories of red sauce in Little Italy joints.
Each element was well-seasoned, fresh and generous. Big enough for four to share, the eggplant was so old school it was comforting.
Entrees The entrees, though rooted in tradition, felt modern thanks to their simplicity and focus on good ingredients.
A simple dish of smoked mozzarella ravioli bathed in light and creamy basil pesto ($15) proved that handmade pasta truly is better than the dry stuff. Each bite was tender and almost buttery.
The silky pale green sauce was deceiving. It seemed simple but, thanks to expert seasoning, the more we ate, the more complex it tasted.
The Quattro pizza ($13) showed off the kitchen's skill with their fabulous-looking pizza oven. In true Neopolitan style, the crust was thin, just chewy enough, and charred here and there.
On top of tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, four toppings each occupied one-quarter of the pizza. Whole pitted black olives, grilled artichoke hearts, wood-fired yellow and red peppers and thin slices of Italian ham jockeyed for our attention. All were excellent — and we were happy we didn't have to choose just one.
Dessert Italian restaurants are nearly required to offer tiramisu; often it's a refrigerated disappointment. We were happy, then, to discover that Facci's take on the traditional dessert ($8) was the real deal. Layers of cake and cream, with just a hint of coffee flavor, were spongy and sweet.
Dinner wasn't perfect. The menu was overly long; we'd have been happier with fewer choices. A complimentary basket of focaccia included a some overcooked pieces. The revolving wait staff occasionally left us feeling dizzy.
Those glitches felt minor, though, in the context of our meal. By the time we headed out, they were long forgotten — and so was that hour-long wait.
Back story: Facci, a fun and upscale Italian eatery, opened in the new Turf Valley shopping center in mid-September. Owner Gino Palma, a Naples, Italy native, opened his first Facci in Laurel in 2010. With indoor and outdoor seating, a slick modern interior and an appealing menu including handmade pastas and wood-fired pizzas, the restaurant is off to a successful — and busy — start.
Parking: Lots on all sides
Signature dish: The Quattro pizza is ideal for diners who don't like to make decisions. Crispy-chewy crust, charred from Facci's huge wood-burning oven, is topped with red sauce and mozzarella then divided into quadrants for four toppings: Italian ham, artichoke hearts, olives and thin slices of wood-fired peppers.
TVs: six in the bar
Where: Turf Valley Resort; 11095 Resort Road, Ellicott City
Contact: 410-750-0001; http://www.faccirestaurant.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major except Discover
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: Well-executed pizzas and pastas served professionally in a sophisticated, but fun, Ellicott City space