The best restaurant stories involve some serendipity: a little haven of deliciousness in a strip mall, a surprisingly beautiful decor in a biker bar, etc.
This is not one of those stories. Riccardi’s was delicious and beautiful and we were delighted with our experience there. But it was no surprise; we’d been stalking them for months.
The Big Dog remembered going to Riccardi’s in New Bedford as a kid and wasn’t sure we would like it. We explored their website and were uninspired. Gina did a drive-by and was unenthused. We called for reservations one night and hung up before anyone answered the phone. We bid on a silent auction package at a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser because it included a $15 Riccardi’s gift certificate, and we figured that would push us over the edge and make us go.
And finally, mid-afternoon on one raw and rainy Wednesday, we went.
And we loved Riccardi’s.
Before we get to the deliciousness and beautifulness, we should comment on the service. We enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff is well trained, polite, pleasant, and competent. We also enjoy going to restaurants where the waitstaff pull up a chair and tell us about themselves. But we’re always most comfortable in establishments where the employees have an innate understanding of when polite-and-reserved is going to make for a better dining experience than convivial chit-chat. The staff we met at Riccardi’s had it. In our case, there was literally a moment when our bartender transitioned from “Server #41” to “Shelby,” and that was a good thing.
Not to belabor the point, but just as a clean restroom suggests a clean kitchen, and a great house salad portends a great meal, the bartender’s handling of a request to change the TV station is kind of a bellwether. Often they say they’ve been told they can’t (meaning management doesn’t trust the staff). As often, they claim ignorance (pretend-stupid is as bad as stupid, in our book). At Riccardi’s, after looking around to make sure our choice wasn’t likely to offend other customers, Shelby offered us the remote — a good move — but then checked back to make sure we’d figured it out — a great move.
We sat at the six-seat granite-topped bar at one edge of the dining area and marveled at the space: forests of lush philodendrons dangled from high ceilings, ample windows and skylights let in plenty of natural light but with landscaping that protected us from the view of the parking lot. Booths lined the room, with those at the front end of the restaurant — opposite the take-out area where we entered — were slightly elevated. The space felt both newly renovated and long-established. When we arrived, a fitting Frank Sinatra song was playing. Brought in blindfolded, you never would have guessed you were on Route 6 in Fairhaven.
So. We started with a great bottle of wine, a Banfi chianti, for $28. It was light yet substantial and seemed like a great bargain, and paired nicely with a basket of dense and slightly sweet bread.
Gina selected the “Venice Feast” ($9.95) and will order it next time too. It includes two manicotti stuffed with a heavenly creamy cheesy spinachy concoction, two slices of eggplant fried in a light eggy wash and dabbed with cheese and tomato sauce, and a giant scoop of ziti (you can opt for linguine instead) topped with an earthy marinara.
The Big Dog’s pick was off what we guessed was a specials list, although the list was laminated, making it seem very permanent, and unlabeled. His seafood risotto ($17.95) included a base of arborio rice cooked with chunks of tomato and onion and a hint of shellfish broth, then topped with an artfully arranged display of tiny littlenecks and mussels, interspersed with lightly pan fried scallops and shrimp. The shellfish were outstanding, and the rice had a decadently rich buttery flavor.
As an aside, we should say that the Venice Feast came with a side salad and the Big Dog’s risotto included, for a $1 upcharge, a generous bowl of minestrone, and we didn’t care for either. The Dog thought the soup was okay but too far from traditional minestrone to bear the name, and you frankly don’t want to hear Gina’s tirade about lettuce that tastes like chlorine. But that really seems like quibbling, given how fresh and delicious the balance of our meal was.
Mid-afternoon on a rainy weekday, we had the waitstaff’s full attention, with only two other parties in the dining room, and we can imagine that the atmosphere changes dramatically on a weekend night, but the structure seems to be in place to accommodate a large crowd.
We definitely recommend Riccardi’s and are looking forward to returning.
Riccardi’s Italian Restaurant
38 Sconticut Neck Road, Fairhaven