After visiting Ottavio's for lunch this past week, I can't wait to return for dinner.

That's because, though this longtime Provo eatery puts on a fine spread at lunch, there are even more enticing blandishments in the evening.

When my friend, Catherine, and I met for lunch at Ottavio's, she knew before we sat down what she'd order. A fan of the place for years, she especially loves Ottavio's tongue-twisting pollo penne pesto (just try saying it out loud a couple of times), the dish that adorns the restaurant's Web page.

But more on that in a second.

First, sitting in the spacious, clean and classy dining space, we had to iron out the issue of appetizers. We decided on the mozzarella picante fritti, a rich and satisfying take on classic fried mozzarella that blends mozz with piquant bleu cheese in a super-crisp breading. They were served in a cabbage cup with ranch dressing and chunky marinara.

We didn't get any other starters because, in a generous touch that makes the prices at Ottavio's seem even more reasonable, all entrees come with a basket of fresh, fluffy focaccia bread with oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as salad or a cup of soup.

Catherine and I both chose soup: her the tangy, silky tomato-basil; and me the minestrone milanese, which contained a staggering variety of veggies — potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, cauliflower and probably some I forgot — and lots of herbs and tender, creamy beans.

Then it was time for Catherine's pollo penne pesto, a light but satisfying blend of lean sauteed chicken, penne pasta, toasty-sweet pine nuts, fresh basil, olive oil, romano cheese and cream. Her portion was enormous, leaving her plenty to take home and share with her husband.

I had the cannelloni, which for lunch is a single long pasta tube, stuffed generously with beef, pork and veal and baked in meat sauce sprinkled with cheese. It's hearty fare, but not overwhelming, and one of the best versions of cannelloni I've ever eaten.

For dessert, Catherine had the cannoli, a nice crunchy version with plenty of chocolate-studded cream filling; and I had (of course) the tiramisu, which was firm and lightly sweet with a nice strong coffee finish.

Most of the menu — including whole sections of salad, pizza, calzones and nonpasta entrees — gets more extensive at night, with the addition of such enticing options as grilled shrimp salad, spaghetti and meatballs, Italian-style New York strip steak and the Sicilian feast, which features lasagna, chicken Parmesan and fettuccini Alfredo in one ginormous dinner.

In a million tries I could never finish a meal like that, but who cares? I'm certain it makes delicious leftovers.

Lunch: Appetizers $3.95-$8.95, soup and salad $2.95-$9.50, pizza and calzones $8.50-$12.50, pasta $6.95-$9.50, entrees $8.95-$13.95; kids' meals $5.95. Dinner: Appetizers $3.95-$8.95, soup and salad $2.95-$13.95, pizza and calzones $8.50-$12.50, pasta $10.50-$17.95, entrees $13.75-$21.50, kids' meals $5.95.

Rating: *** 1/2

Where: 71 E. Center, Provo

Hours: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

Saturday 4-10 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 801-377-9555

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: Daily lunch buffet; patio dining; private rooms available; on the Web at www.Ottavios.com


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com