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*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Biaggi’s beckons with inspired Italian offerings

It was something I chose more out of curiosity than hunger.

The Fettuccini with Lobster at Biaggi’s in Jefferson Pointe included the shellfish, along with wild mushrooms and a lobster-cream sauce over black pasta. The menu didn’t say it, but my server verified the black pasta resulted from squid ink being incorporated.

Lobster is never hard to get me to order, but with all of the other tasty pastas and sauces, this choice was purely made because I wanted to have the squid ink pasta. And what I received is one of the best seafood pastas I have ever eaten, and the black pasta didn’t really have much to do with it.

The lobster sauce on this rather moderately priced entree was rich and creamy with a lot of lobster essence. There was also a lot of lobster, including one nearly-whole claw. The ink didn’t alter the flavor of the perfectly tender homemade pasta. It was just a delicious dish.

The Salmon and Shrimp Milanese had the potential to be as impressive as the fettuccini.

A thin, beautifully cooked fillet crusted in black peppercorn and fennel seed was joined by a creamy asparagus and saffron risotto with a lemon-basil butter sauce. The risotto was spot-on, the asparagus was crisp and fresh, and the salmon was moist, delicate and mild. The shrimp were also perfectly grilled, sweet and sizable.

The crust on the fish, however, was not distributed evenly leaving much of it bland. It also lacked the most basic seasoning – salt. But I will gamble on it again and keep my salt shaker nearby.

As impressed as I was with my selections from the sea, I was equally underwhelmed by a more classic Italian dish, the Osso Buco. A braised veal shank is a perfect type of dish for this time of year, but the version Biaggi’s presented was not the one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of Osso Buco I was craving.

The shank was fantastic – mild sweet meat that was fall-off-the-bone tender – but it was cooked in garlic, herbs, vegetables and white wine, which created a pan sauce that was way too timid. It was like a giant hunk of veal swimming in bland vegetable soup. Using beef stock, red wine or a little tomato (or all three) would have been better. The gnocchi in brown sage butter underneath was wonderful, however.

The Cold-Smoked Hanger Steak, which I noticed was no longer on the menu during my most recent trip, was nice and tender, but there wasn’t a bit of smoky flavor. The sweet tomato chutney that garnished it was tasty and the herb-roasted fingerling potatoes were fine, but the steak fell flat.

My appetizers were all worth having again.

The Bacon-wrapped Dates with maple-balsamic glaze arrived piping hot – almost too hot – and the bacon had a nice little char on it. It was sweet, but the salty bacon and balsamic tempered it well.

The Carpaccio was beautiful with thin slices of the raw top sirloin fanned out on the plate with a pile of peppery arugula, shaved Parmesan, onions and salty capers in the middle. The onions and capers were necessary as there was little of the Dijon aioli. Next time I will ask for more dressing, but I will have it next time.

I would also pass on the rather boring house salad and split a roasted beet salad with someone. Red and golden-yellow roasted beet cubes flavored with a honey-balsamic marinade were paired with arugula, avocado, dried cranberries, pistachios and a large dollop of silky smooth goat cheese. It was sweet, earthy, nutty and creamy all at the same time. What else could one want?

The Duck Confit was a massive portion that could have been an entree. Two giant triangular cakes of custard-like Parmesan polenta were sprinkled with the braised duck, wild mushrooms and dried cranberries. The duck was tender and succulent, but there were several gristly pieces. The cranberries added a nice touch of sweetness to offset the other savory ingredients. But it was just too daunting of an appetizer, even when shared. One polenta cake would have sufficed.

When it came to dessert, the most basic was the best. The apples in the Warm Apple Crostada were sauteed with cinnamon and raisins, then baked in flaky pastry dough and covered with a delectable caramel-rum sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was a great winter meal-ender.

The Nutella Skillet Cookie beckoned me, but turned out to be the only fresh-baked cookie dessert I have ever considered a bad choice. It was loaded with chocolate and tasted great, but it was so undercooked it was more like cookie soup than a tasty warm cookie. The bits from the edges of the pan were OK, but the rest was a mess.

A much better dessert choice was also soupy, but in a good way. The Baked Cappuccino – which I was told by a manager was developed at the Fort Wayne store – looked like the coffee drink served in a coffee mug with a chocolate straw and whipped cream emulating foam on top with a sprinkle of cinnamon. But inside the cup were layers of flourless chocolate cake and espresso custard. It was as tasty as it was fun.

There must be a lot of fun being had at Biaggi’s because, despite being beautifully upscale, it is always noisy. Terribly noisy. So noisy I had to ask my servers to repeat things to me more than once. The tables are spread out to make it comfortable, but there is just a constant racket.

But even if a romantic dinner may not be in the cards there, the good service and some impressive offerings make it worth keeping on your list.

Restaurant: Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano

Address: 4010 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 459-6700

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Italian

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Not really

Menu: Carpaccio ($8.99), dates ($7.99), beet salad ($7.99), Fettuccini with Lobster ($15.99), salmon and shrimp ($18.99), Osso Buco ($24.99), crostada ($6.99), cookie ($5.75), Baked Cappuccino ($6.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.