Upscale yet Moderately Priced!
By Barbara Parent Record-JournaL
It's always exciting to hit upon a restaurant that is relatively unknown and not frequented by the dining snobs. Oh, you know what I mean. How often is it that the trendy "in" places everyone is talking about aren't all that deserving of their reputation considering the high prices they usually command. We have discovered - thanks to a co-worker of my sister-in-law's, a small Italian restaurant in a middle-class Waterbury neighborhood that serves meals that-are upscale and moderately priced.
At D'Amelio's on Highland Avenue, the two veal dishes at $12.95. But inexpensive isn't what makes this restaurant special. I could say it's the Italian music floating throughout the restaurant and the distinct vocals of Louis Prima...
Buona sera senorina, buona sera
It's time to say goodnight to Napoli...
I could say it's the relaxed atmosphere of a restaurant that is a deli until 5 p.m. and that dining in the ground floor level finds one in a booth in view of the soft drink cooler and display cases filled with cold cuts and cheeses. Sandwiches, grinders and salads are the hot items at lunch and take out necessities - plastic cutlery, napkins, etc. are by the cash register. Five tables with umbrellas fill the patio in front of the restaurant where the music is audible to both diners and neighborhood foot traffic.
The surroundings evoke that comfortable old world unpretentiousness captured without a decorator's touch. And although we settle easily into the mood as if we were in an Italian grandmother's kitchen, if the food served here is mediocre then what would be the point? Our server asks us when we'll be back again. Yes we most definitely will.
A half loaf of Italian bread, its crisp crust studded with sesame seeds, arrives at the table before we order. The cup of fresh ricotta cheese and olive oil is pleasant surprise and is eagerly spread across warm slices that have already been cut for convenience. There is butter for my husband, whose French-Canadian roots don't quite acquaint ricotta as bread spread. His sister is more adventurous. The basket is re-filled when one slice remains. We like that attention to detail, too often overlooked in many places. We like it too that we get individual glasses of ice water with lemon slices and filled carafe left at the table. Diners may bring in their own wine and beer.
Four good sized wooden booths, large enough for six, occupy the street level room and a few steps up to the second level is a long and narrow area with 8 or 9 tables.
D'Amelio's menu features a dozen pasta dishes with various sauces, a half dozen each of veal and chicken dishes and evening specials. We begin with the fried calamari appetizer and it is the only disappointment of the evening. The rings and tendrils are very flavorful and while the tendrils are crispy, some of the rings are too chewy for our taste. A warm chunky marinara sauce is served alongside the portion easily satisfied three. Lobster ravioli is filled with pieces of lobster meat and nicely complemented by a delicate pink champagne sauce. The lemon, butter, and white wine sauce for the shrimp and scallop scampi is punctuated with capers and the garlic unobtrusive. Adding flavor is an abundance of both large shrimp and medium sized shrimp and loads of tender sweet scallops. We choose to have the sauce over linguine and the serving is more than adequate without being overwhelming.
The cheese filled ravioli brings us a dozen large pillows stuffed with a good creamy ricotta cheese and topped with a layer of melted mozzarella. The sauce is a lightly seasoned chunky marinara.
We talk the veal fancier in our party out of her usual parmigiana and into saltimbocca. Her lightly buttered and sauteed cutlet is fork tender and layered with a lean prosciutto and melted mozzarella and garnished with grilled portobello strips. A wonderful brown sauce over the cutlet spills onto the plate and is a flavorful moat for dredging the forkfuls of veal and salty ham. Chicken Alanna is a whole, skinless boneless breast, topped with lots of fresh sauteed spinach and is wonderfully moist with the addition of a zinfandel sauce. The spinach is not chopped but rather whole leaves with tender stems and topped with melted mozzarella. The dish is quite impressive, crowned as it is with two whole split red roasted peppers. Choice of pasta with marinara sauce is included with all meat entrees. All entrees come with the choice of tossed or spinach salad. The spinach salad is quite nice, the flavor of the greens enhanced by a warm vinaigarette and pieces of chopped fresh bacon, sliced Bermuda onions and grilled mushrooms. Italian desserts, such as tartufo and tirimisu are mouth wateringly pictured along with cappuccino cake, bitter chocolate mousse and lots more in a special dessert menu. We notice too that the deli case holds few more tantilizing sweets and assorted Italian cookies. Ah, maybe next time.