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Italian — and gnocchi — done well at Villa Gallace in Indian Rocks Beach

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The sign in front of Villa Gallace on Gulf Boulevard says "homemade gnocchi." A simple statement that means we know at least one thing we will be having before we even park the car. If a place considers a dish worthy of marquee treatment, you want to know if it deserves it.

There are really three ways gnocchi can go. Optimally, they are light, airy clouds of potato and flour. Work the dough too much, however, and you get a heavier, dense dumpling that some people prefer.

The third kind are gummy and chewy, a texture usually associated with premade. On most menus, this is what you're likely to find.

On this menu, the entree version of the dish is gnocchi Villa Gallace ($17) with mushrooms and tomato-Gorgonzola sauce, but our server offered to sauce them up any way we would like them. A nice gesture, but we'll go with the version named after the restaurant, thanks.

With the first bite, the housemade claims are confirmed. Most of the gnocchi are perfectly light, while some of them have enough density to provide character. Nothing gummy. Nothing chewy. We are in the building where these gnocchi were made. A straight sauce of Gorgonzola and cream is classic, but the tomato and mushroom cut it enough to lessen the guilt of finishing the bowl.

The rest of the menu is packed with dish titles that may require translation services of a knowledgeable Italian-accented server. A meat (pollo, pesce, vitello) is followed by the region of origin (Parmigiana, Genovese, Bolognese), an imaginative descriptor (saltimbocca, fra diavolo, piccata) or the occupation of a person who might have made or invented it (cacciatore, carbonara and, ahem, puttanesca).

One I hadn't heard before is pollo scarpariello ($19), which fits into that last category as it means "shoemaker's chicken." And like many of the occupation-related names, there isn't necessarily a logical correlation between the dish and the job. But, from this we can assume that an Italian shoemaker, at some point in time, enjoyed a nice bowl of chicken, sausage, potato, olives and pepperoncini in a garlic-lemon broth. All the flavors are good on their own, and the dish becomes new with every bite as you get a different combination on your spoon, the broth a bright constant.

Among appetizers, the roasted peppers and mozzarella ($8) was more successful than the caprese salad ($8). The soft, fresh cheese was good in both, but the sweet peppers packed more punch than the caprese's somewhat bland tomatoes.

The wine list adds plenty of California options to the obvious Italian choices, with glasses in many varietals around $7. By the bottle, you can spend as much as you want. A bottle of red? Spend $27 or $275. A bottle of white? From $17 to $70.

When it is time for dolci, the leading housemade options are not surprising: cannoli and tiramisu. The cannoli is fine if not transforming; the tiramisu delivers the right flavors in the wrong vessel. Part of the beauty of tiramisu is cutting across the strata of cream, custard and espresso-soaked cookies. But here it is served in a martini­like glass, and the conical shape focuses the layers in progressively smaller areas as you descend, making it hard to get all the flavors in one bite. Not a disaster, but not ideal.

That also might seem an apt description of the location, a former convenience store on an easy-to-miss triangular lot with an odd parking situation. But the dining room, with views of the Intracoastal and walls covered in photos of family and famous customers served over the restaurant's 15 years, can fill up on weekends. So somebody found it.

Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746. Webster dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

.. Review

Villa Gallace

109 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach; (727) 596-0200;

Cuisine: Italian

Hours: 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 4 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday

Details: Amex, V, MC, Discover; reservations suggested; beer and wine

Prices: Entrees $13 to $25; appetizers $6 to $9

Rating out of four stars: Food: ★★★

Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★★

Italian — and gnocchi — done well at Villa Gallace in Indian Rocks Beach 08/10/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 5:36pm]
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