diners were clearly happy, laughing among themselves, exchanging
niceties with the servers; the bar, on the other side of a
windowed dividing wall, was busy with folks whose easygoing
manner suggested they were regulars. Although this was my
first visit, I’d been greeted warmly enough. I was dining
with my daughter, which is always pleasant, and, now that
she’s nearly 13, she has an adventurous culinary spirit and
thus is a valuable review companion. So what was the problem?
several days to figure it out, and it says more about me than
the restaurant. There’s a keen, instant sense of belonging
that at taches to a certain type of restaurant, typified by
the neighborhood Italian joint. It’s the extended family further
ex tended, consanguinity unrequired. And I was feeling left
go weeping for me. Or at least not much. The ritual of dining
in the company of others will itself lead to a sense of togetherness,
even if you never engage the adjacent party. And once our
server got our dinners underway, smooth-talking Conrad (channeling
Stanley Tucci in Big Night) never made us feel less
than special. I’m sure that, should I return any time soon,
he’ll remember my menu preferences and choice of wine.
open for about a year, replaced Nicole’s in the 20 Mall, but
carries on the tradition of good Italian fare, now under the
aegis of chef-owner Raffaele Sainato, formerly of Lombardo’s
and Michele da Verona. Being in a well-trafficked strip mall
makes it a natural lunch destination; the afternoon menu offers
a mix of scaled-down dinner items along with sandwiches ($8
range) and what’s termed “specialty lunches,” complete meals
in the $9 range built around shrimp, chicken or veal, any
of which is offered in a parmigiana version.
menu offers the classic Italian primo-secondo course
structure, with such pre-primo selections for starters
as the expected range of antipasti and soup. Look for
many preparations of shrimp, clams, calamari, mussels and
more, and even scaled-down fettuccine entrées, priced from
$6 to $11.
selections include minestrone, tortellini in broth, pasta
e fagioli and zuppa fantasia ($4.25 to $4.75),
the last-named a compote of tortellini and egg in a hot chicken
broth, promising a satisfying range of flavors. It’s a rambunctious-looking
dish, the cooked egg floating atop the bowl in an ambiguous,
yellowish mass, crying out for a more colorful garnish. And
it would have been pleasant to taste something other than
salt as the flavor’s finish.
that was the only dish we sampled with any flavor problems,
almost everything else we were served suffered from a bland
appearance. Lily’s antipasto caldo ($8.50), sporting
an array of hot clams casino, roasted peppers and artichoke
hearts and more, looked like the plate I’d haphazardly assemble
from a buffet. Salads were simple but attractive, and the
house Italian dressing was a far better complement than the
run-of-the-mill blue cheese. Bread is served with butter patties
and a ramekin of very garlicky oil that easily became our
the primi piatti. Your basic pasta—linguine, spaghetti,
penne or fettuccine—is available with your choice of marinara,
garlic and oil, meat sauce, sausage or meatballs, each in
the $14 range. More complicated items like gnocchi, ravioli,
stuffed shells or lasagna also come with a choice of sauce,
heading toward $15. The pasta specialties, priced from $16.50
to $21, are where you’ll find your cream sauces, more complicated
combos like lobster ravioli, classics like rigatoni alla vodka
and a combo like pasta della massaia, which puts lasagna,
tortellini and a portion of fettuccine Alfredo on your plate.
primavera seemed a good representative example, putting an
array of fresh vegetables with thin spaghetti in a cheese-rich
cream sauce, and it certainly fulfilled those expectations
with a hearty flavor and a large-enough portion to warrant
a take-home container. But here’s the contextual dilemma I
discovered. Had this dish been served alongside another, more
colorful, more complicated entrée, it would have looked fine.
Served alongside the entrée I ordered, which was pollo
rustico ($19), it reinforced the latter’s surprising plainness.
Rustic chicken is described on the menu as “chicken and Italian
sausage cut into pieces, sautéed in butter and white wine
sauce,” and, indeed it was. And that’s all it was. A plate
of chicken and sausages pieces, the surrounding sauce brown
and thick. Not a hint of garnish. A side of pasta served separately.
Excellent flavor, but where’s the visual artistry?
secondi choices include 15 seafood items, including
shrimp parmigiana, baked whitefish, shrimp rolled in prosciutto
with mozzarella, and the classic all-in-one zuppa di pesce.
Chicken can be prepared alla cacciatora, Francese, alla Marsala
and more, and veal dishes also cover the classic bases, with
the entrées running from $18 to $22, except for the price-topping
zuppa di pesce at $27.50.
better in the looks department with a dessert of homemade
almond cake topped with pistachio gelato and a drizzle of
amaretto. We finished and left as more and more tables filled
and began dinner, so the sense of community no doubt was complete.