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Under the Tuscan Sunset

by B.A. Nilsson on October 13, 2011

Ca’ Mea Ristorante

Ca’ Mea Ristorante, 333 Warren St., Hudson, 822-0005, camearestaurant.com. Serving lunch noon-3 Tue-Sun, dinner 5-10 Tue-Sat, 5-9 Sun. AE, MC, D, V

Cuisine: Northern Italian

Entrée price range: $17 (spinach-ricotta ravioli) to $25 (New York strip)

Ambiance: charming, homey

The red rays of a picture-book sunset barely penetrated the walled-in garden space in which Ca’ Mea features outdoor dining. The corrugated wall of a tall building obscures one side; fencing and foliage cover another. Each table is umbrella-protected, another light diffuser. But the day of our visit couldn’t have been lovelier, imbuing the patio with the warmth of a balmy Italian countryside.

And the changeability. As the sky darkened, the patio turned gloomy, unsettling. Then a magical thing happened. One of the hosts went from table to table, turning up the flames on the hurricane lamps. Our eyes made their night adjustments. The patio was lovely all over again, this time nighttime lovely. I’ll bet they sell a lot of after-dinner drinks.

Ca’ Mea, a dialect rendering of “casa mea,” is the nearly nine-year-old complex of restaurant and guest rooms (there are nine, spread between two buildings) on a downtown Hudson corner. Owners Roy Felcetto and Max Cenci aim to create a taste of both Tuscan food and hospitality, and Cenci, who doubles as chef, has hands-on experience, so to speak: He also owns a restaurant in his native Cortona, Italy.

The wholly a la carte menu presents manageable numbers of the various courses—typically six or seven choices per—arranged as one would progress through your typical four-hour Tuscan meal. Among the antipasti are a smoked salmon carpaccio ($13), calamari sauté with capers and olives ($11), pancetta-wrapped asparagus ($12) and a grilled vegetable plate ($11) Were this the Italian countryside, the pancetta and veggies probably would be obtained locally. Ca’ Mea splits the difference, so to speak, by importing such items as processed meat while seeking local meats and vegetables.

The day’s appetizer special was ceviche of dorado ($15), laying strips of the rich, citrus-marinated fish atop garlic croutons and golden peppers. Ceviche is essentially a cold-cooked fish, the citrus doing the finishing work while imparting an acidic edge to the flavor. In this case, the flavors blended nicely.

Four salads include an endive-radicchio-arugula mix, arugula with citrus and pecorino, seasonal greens with sun-dried tomato and gorgonzola, and good old Caesar, each $8.50. We ordered a salad special, whose inclusion of pears, cherry tomatoes and gorgonzola boosted its price to $12. No dressing was immediately evident, which proved to be a good thing: The salad was vinaigretteishly anointed with a restrained hand, so the ratio was just right.

Soup of the day ($6.50) was leek. Not cream of. No potatoes. Just leek purée in vegetable stock, a reminder of the charm of simplicity and a celebration of a flavor that’s otherwise always a supporting player.

Homemade pasta figures into most of the pasta offerings, such as linguine with shrimp and shiitake mushrooms ($19), ravioli stuffed with eggplant and ricotta ($18) and gnocchi in pesto ($18). Homemade pappardelle in a shiitake and porcini mushroom sauce ($19) usually would never be my first entrée choice, but I’m trying to cure myself of predictably zeroing in on great big meat dishes. And so for it I went. It proved to be my favorite of the three entrées we sampled. The twisty noodles were an excellent vehicle for the sauce, the deep, earthy flavor of which not only filled the palate exceptionally well but also complemented my glass of deep-hued Montalcino.

Your New York strip is available for $25; ditto your salmon ($23). Although my wife was tempted to ease away from her own predictable choice, in the end it was chicken again, an order of pollo Ca’ Mea ($21). The sautéed chicken breast was invisible beneath its toppings of prosciutto and fontina, the pearly cheese streaked with a red sauce that had enough Tabasco to give a reminder of Buffalo wings, which oughtn’t to be the goal.

The sauce for the grilled pork tenderloin ($23), on the other hand, was based on apple cider with a hint of cinnamon, which, along with the grilled apple slices interspersed with the sliced meat, well complemented the sweetness of the pork. Tuscan-style roasted potatoes and a sauté of broccoli and cauliflower heartily complemented the meat-based entrées.

As the darkness deepened and the restaurant grew more crowded inside and out, the service, exemplary up until then, grew shaky. We were tossed into that peculiar dining hell in which it seemed impossible to get our check. The problem, as always, was that only one server was taking care of our table, and he’d gotten swamped. At least two people should oversee each section, especially in a high-end setting like this.

But Ca’ Mea is otherwise one of the finest restaurants in a village that is acquiring more than its share of competition. The influence of Manhattan is obvious: Hudson has become a destination for those who need to flee the city on a full- or part-time basis, and thus the restaurant scene is courting such customers. I’m happy to be among them.