Photos by Evie Carpenter
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The Strand, an “urban Italian” restaurant in downtown Phoenix’s CityScape, deserves attention from downtown visitors heading to a Suns game, but it doesn’t offer anything unique to those who are familiar with Phoenix’s best cuisine.
The menu features reasonably priced recipes that deviate from traditional Italian food just enough to give the restaurant a little bit of style. Customers can get bruschetta, pizza or pasta, which have distinct twists that make the restaurant stand out. But compared with other restaurants that have a similar fusion-Italian menu, The Strand falls far short of its competition.
I tried the roasted eggplant caponata bruschetta with some apprehension. Although I’ve never had eggplant bruschetta and looked forward to it, the best bruschetta can be found at Postino, on Central Avenue north of Camelback Road. Any competitors will inevitably fail, and that is what The Strand did. The eggplant bruschetta was good overall, but it falls far below any of Postino’s options. The bread was thick and crunchy but not as fresh. The use of eggplant was creative and tasty, but it was mushy and less flavorful than anything at Postino.
I also ordered the prosciutto and fig pizzette, a 10-inch personal pizza. Like the bruschetta, it fell short of its competition. The crunchy, thin-crusted pizza reminded me of something I might order at nearby Hanny’s, but not quite as good. The combination of prosciutto and fig is delicious — and, incidentally, one of my favorite bruschetta toppings at Postino — but not as thinly sliced or fresh-tasting as the pizza at Hanny’s. For prosciutto-pizza fans, I recommend Hanny’s prosciutto e mela pizza, with prosciutto and sliced green apples. For prosciutto pizza fans who are averse to quality ingredients and a unique atmosphere, The Strand is just fine.
A friend ordered the rigatoni alla vodka and let me try some of the dish featuring a creamy tomato sauce with pancetta, shallots and zucchini mixed in. It was a mostly plain pasta without much flavor in the sauce, although the pancetta, a bacon-like meat, added some flair.
Overall, the restaurant puts just enough effort into its dining experience to show that it’s trying, but not enough to beat the competition. The decor, for example — including the funky, jellyfish-like lights — looks like it’s straight out of IKEA.
On the upside, the menu has some creative takes on traditional Italian dishes, and the restaurant is more casual and relaxed than most Italian restaurants. If I didn’t know better, I would compare it to an Italian version of nearby Vitamin T, with self-serve fountain drinks and an order-at-the-counter system of waiting. But I do know better, so I’ll liken it more to an Italian version of Panera. It’s cheap without actually being cheap. A dinner that costs about $15 should impress its customers; The Strand satisfies them without offering anything memorable.
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