Make us your home page

Review: Pensare in Dunedin brings back well-versed chef


Michel and Robin Rey were big fans of Ciro Mancini. They enjoyed his work at Bellini in Dunedin, where he cooked from 2004 to 2009. And they enjoyed his food again at Casanova in Clearwater briefly in 2011.

He had one of those menus: Page forward to the "vitello and pollo," but then leaf back a few pages to peruse the linguini section again. Turn all the way to the first page to have another gander at the antipasti, except that eggplant Parmesan appetizer looks pretty good. It was classic Italian, with red sauces and tangy piccatas and rustic Bologneses, comforting but still sophisticated.

And then Mancini was gone. He absconded to cook at Big Italy in Orlando.

The Reys put their heads together and with partners Russ and Chris Quaglia they lured Mancini back by building him just about the prettiest restaurant in Dunedin. Opened in February in what was previously Paris Hair Design, Pensare feels like it has been around all along with its wide wraparound patio and pretty wood floors. Longtime Mancini fans have found their way here, and new fans are being courted.

Mancini has brought Italian servers with him from other projects and essentially replicated his menu from Bellini and Casanova (well, with the house pastas now called ravioli Pensare and such). And in light of a couple of recent visits, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

A special appetizer of burrata (a hefty $20, but it was eminently sharable) brought a bouncy ball of creamy-centered mozzarella and greens, with a whiff of truffle oil, all perched atop translucent rounds of air-dried beef bresaola, a masterful array of flavors and textures. A wide bowl of sweet mussels ($12) lounge in a warm bath of garlicky white wine with cherry tomatoes, the slightly briny broth mopped with crusty toasts. Because entrees come with a house or arugula salad, apps aren't essential, but they're hard to pass up.

Dishes that jump out at Pensare often fall into one of two categories: the "oh, I really shouldn't, but I will" decadent and those heightened by his bright and lively tomato sauce. One that fits both categories, the house ravioli ($22) is stuffed with ricotta and Maine lobster, the little pillows paired with shrimp and scallops in a cream-lightened tomato sauce. It's rich and luxurious, the sweet seafood flavors dominating, but the vivacity of the tomato sauce shines right through the cream.

It's that tomato sauce that elevates thinly sliced, breaded and fried eggplant layered with molten mozzarella ($12) and it's there again in the veal Contadina ($20), the scallopini paired deftly with thin-sliced eggplant. And for luxury? For $22, it's hard to indulge yourself any more thoroughly than the saccottini Ciro, pouches of ricotta-stuffed fresh pasta in a black truffle-flecked cream sauce with lengths of sauteed mushroom and chewy bits of pancetta.

Before the weather gets too steamy, the patio at Pensare is the premium seating, with views of all that's going on along Main Street. In or out, Mancini and Michel Rey make regular stops at tables, and servers are attentive and well paced, their only shortcoming being the occasional language barrier that gets in the way of dish explication. No matter — the menu comes with vivid descriptions, each dish paired with a wine suggestion from the short, familiar list.

I was prepared to ding Mancini for not making his own desserts. With such an extensive menu, the kitchen can't muster a little more juice to focus on sweets? My grousing was silenced when ours arrived, a textbook dark chocolate souffle ($7), with great loft and a molten center, and a layered limoncello cake ($7), its tender sponge and lemon-flavored butter cream an ideal foil for a tiny cup of inky espresso.

Fine, they come from elsewhere, but Mancini knows how to pick 'em. When you think about it (and pensare, after all, means "think" in Italian), maybe it's really the Reys and the Quaglias who know how to pick 'em.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


Pensare Italian Bistro & Wine Bar

799 Highland Ave., Dunedin

(727) 786-2222;

Cuisine: Italian

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Appetizers $3-$20; entrees $16-$35

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★

Review: Pensare in Dunedin brings back well-versed chef 05/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 13, 2013 5:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 17: Think 11 miles of nothing but straight trail and open, flat fields sounds easy? Think again.


    Day 17: Villarmentero de Campos to Lédigos: 33.5 km, 10.25 hours. Total for Days 1-17 = 394 km (245 miles)

  2. Tom Sawyer with a revolver? Twain house has live 'Clue' game


    HARTFORD, Conn. — Was it Tom Sawyer in Samuel Clemens' billiard room with a revolver?

    In this July 14 photo, actor Dan Russell, left, portraying the character Arkansas from Mark Twain's book Roughing it, responds to a question from 10-year-old Emma Connell, center, of Arizona during a "Clue" tour at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Conn. The tour allows visitors to interact with Twain characters while playing a live-action version of the board game. [AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb]
  3. Until this song, Alan Parsons Project stood on much higher ground


    Listening to yesterday's Keats song made me pine for more Alan Parsons Project music and today we dig deeper into their catalogue with Standing On Higher Ground.

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 23


    Marie Antoinette: Freefall 411: A contemporary look at the historic pariah looks at Marie Antoinette through the lens of society's obsession with celebrity. Through August 13. A brief talk prior to the performance provides insight to the production. 1 p.m., show starts at 2 p.m., Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central …

    Lucas Wells as King Louis XVI, left, and Megan Rippey as Marie Antoinette in Freefall Theatre's "Marie Antoinette."
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for July 22


    Snooty the Manatee's 69th Birthday Bash: Snooty, documented by Guinness World Records as the oldest known manatee in captivity, turns 69 and celebrates with children's games, art activities, cookies, drinks , interaction with Snooty the mascot and reduced price museum admission. 10 a.m., South Florida Museum, 201 …

    Snooty the manatee poses for a photo Thursday morning while three young manatees are unloaded from Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Thursday morning at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
PAUL VIDELA/ 12/20/07