Two crucial aspects of Imponente Pizza and Pasta, the 7-month-old Fort Worth Italian restaurant, become crystal-clear in the initial moments it takes to stroll to your table.
First is its clearly DIY visual quality, thanks to all the rustic, hand-hewn art and other design touches, created by Dean and Roshie Barakhshan Bakhtiarpour, the restaurant’s husband-and-wife co-owners, architects and chefs.
And then there is the natural link between the restaurant’s Italian name, Imponente (translation: “awesome, commanding”), and its consistent, and often “awesome,” command of the irresistible simplicity of classic Italian comfort food, made almost entirely from scratch — the latter perhaps the most essential DIY element in Imponente’s winning formula.
Imponente is a decades-long culmination of a dream that drove the Bakhtiarpours from Iran to the U.S., with stops in Massachusetts, California and Washington before they eventually landed in North Texas.
In late 2014, the Bakhtiarpours assumed the lease on a former Mexican restaurant near Lake Worth, and in April they opened Imponente: a 2,600-square-foot, 80-seat space replete with all their hand-done touches. They purposely selected the lemon-yellow tint of the walls, as it purportedly encourages a healthy appetite.
There’s the hypnotic series of undulating waves carved from plywood that clings to Imponente’s main wall. While Roshie and Dean engaged in mass reupholstery of all the chairs and booths, Dean fashioned the silver patterned grid under the 20-by-13-foot black granite bar. He also hand-carved the wood hanging of a horse that looks like it gamboled out of The Black Stallion.
The food at Imponente is as handcrafted as its interior. I went for the appetizer of a baguette-thin pepperoni rollet ($7), with its calzone-like dough oozing pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Meanwhile, the calamari ($9) were greaselessly fried, crunchy ringlets poised to plunge into a fresh-tomato marinara sauce.
Imponente’s fettuccine alla panna ($9) and its lasagna da zia Anna ($11) were paragons of those comfort-food classics. The fettucine’s al dente noodles were toothsome, and the accompanying sauce was a sublimely balanced heavy cream bearing the Three Bears credo: neither too thick nor to thin.
The lasagna boasted a filling of veal, pork and beef, spliced among seven layers of pasta, sauce and cheese. The tomato sauce, shot through with basil and oregano, delivered a mildly acidic nudge that burst through its four-cheese soul. It was all delivered in a gloriously lopsided square clearly formed by dedicated human hands, not some robotic conveyor belt.
Pizza has given the Bakhtiarpours the motive for their biggest extravagance: a $30,000, 5-ton, stainless-steel-tiled brick pizza oven that burns cords of oak and pecan logs at temps of 700-900 degrees.
The Sicilian pie ($14) was redolent with ground sausage whose imposing meatball chunks dwarfed neighboring pepperoni slices. The crust is the model for all the pizzas sampled: the soft chew of a classic Neapolitan, with the thin, crackling armor of a slice eaten in a Greenwich Village joint.
The most beguiling pizza I sampled featured 10-hour-braised and smoked brisket. ($16). This pie highlighted the tender brisket, riddled with chopped applewood-smoked bacon and a caramelized onion jam that sang a sweet-savory melody.
Of course, when it comes to the sweetness of its desserts, there’s nothing reticent about Imponente’s Sicilian cannoli ($6) nor its marshmallow pie ($6 for a 6-inch). The cannoli started with a thick layer of dark chocolate, enrobing two waffle cones the size of Cuban cigars. The sugar rush continued with a clot of pastry cream and chocolate chips spilling from the interior.
The marshmallow pie featured slightly scorched marshmallows, forming a canopy over a graham cracker layer, engraved with chocolate syrup and a flurry of confectioners’ sugar.
Imponente may mean awesome, but it could just as easily translate to comfort, from many sources: the instantly hummable classic rock by Elton John and the Beach Boys on the sound system, or the restaurant’s generous portions, which blotted out any expanse of its Arctic-white plates.
And then there is the irresistible hospitality extended by Roshie Bakhtiarpour, who eases up to every table, inquiring with genuine curiosity if everything is to your satisfaction. What she’s looking for, she admits, is that “yummy-taste look on a customer’s face.”
I couldn’t conceal mine.