Wareham Oyster Festival

Oyster Festival LogoGina and the Big Dog are pleased to support the second annual Wareham Oyster Festival, which kicks off today in this beautiful seaside town.

Through the next seven days, some of our favorite Wareham restaurants will offer delicious oyster specials.  Several informational talks are planned.  The organizer, Wareham Village Association, will hold a fundraising gala at the new Rosebrook Event Center on Friday evening.  A 5K road race is planned for Sunday morning, and the activities culminate on Sunday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a fun street fair on Main Street.  There will be plenty of oysters, beverages from our friends at Westport Rivers Vineyard and Buzzards Bay Brewery, two dozen crafters and artisans, music by the Southcoast Jazz Orchestra and our friend Mikelyn Roderick, and more!

It’s an event you don’t want to miss, and an example of the local food and shellfish industries coming together to promote several important aspects of the local economy.

Visit the Wareham Village Association website to learn more.

P.S. We kicked off the week with a lunchtime plate of fried oysters at Bailey’s Surf and Turf. Yum!

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Martinis, Plymouth

2015-04-07 21.22.27We went to Martinis because we had one of those Living Social coupons and it was about to expire.  We’d heard that they had pretty good food, and on Tuesday nights, live jazz. But it was really about the $15 coupon value we were soon to lose, so we were delighted when Martinis turned out to be a great dining experience, one chock-full of pleasant surprises.

First surprise: the restaurant was packed on a Tuesday night, with all eyes on a stage at the back of the long, narrow space.  We were led to a high-top near the windows on Main Streeet by the same Jimmy who’d taken our call earlier and told us the kitchen was serving until 10. A young server, who turned out to be his daughter, Meg, brought us menus, then returned promptly to take our drink order. No waiting here, despite the crowd. We were treated like regulars.

Thinking that one should order a martini in an establishment called Martinis, The Big Dog chose a tiramisu concoction ($12) that was very sweet. Surprise Number Two came later, when we learned that the name comes not from the increasingly tarted-up classic beverage, but rather from the name of the restaurant in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Gina selected a Carnivor cabernet ($8).

The menu offers all kinds of interesting items, which can be good and bad. Often, what sounds like a good idea is actually not good at all.  We decided to start with something called a Boursin Cheese Artichoke ($10), described as a “long-stemmed artichoke stuffed with house boursin cheese, baked with panko crumbs and aged balsamic drizzle.” It was heavenly.  A baby artichoke was sliced in half, piled with a delicious boursin, and made crunchy with a layer of crumbs. Yes, it was a small portion for the price, but if that’s your standard for food, may we suggest the whopper junior with fries? We could see Surprise Number Three shaping up: excellent, creative food in a space entirely dominated by a bar.

The Big Dog called for a Sunflower Salad ($8), a fresh little plate of what others might call a Greek salad, whose twist was a sunflower oil vinaigrette and a scattering of sunflower seeds, along with some arugula mixed with the usual Greek components.

Gina ordered the roasted Statler chicken breast ($16), a classic preparation accompanied by a tasty sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and baby carrots (real youngsters, not those giant carrots pared into pellets on a lathe). It was very good.  For that price, one would expect a far more ordinary dish.

The Big Dog’s entree was “bistro meatloaf” ($17). It was ground veal wrapped with bacon and topped with a tomato-y sauce and smoked cheddar. It too was served atop mashed potatoes and carrots.

Surprise Number Four?  Host Jimmy returned a bit later and confided that the very nice jazz music was not your average has-beens, but rather the quartet who ordinarily supports a classic crooner who these days spends his time with a singer named Lady Gaga. Their artistry was an excellent compliment to the outstanding food.

We believe downtown Plymouth is one of the coolest places in southeastern Massachusetts, and once again were not disappointed.

Martinis Bar and Grill
50 Court Street, Plymouth

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Lobster Trap, Monument Beach

2015-02-27 14.35.28We have had many outstanding meals at the Lobster Trap in recent years.

Generally speaking, it’s our kind of place  Stretched along scenic Shore Road is first a wholesale fish market, then a retail market, then a room for takeout, then a delightfully rustic dining room, then a pub area with a handful of hightop tables on one side and a copper-surfaced bar on the other, then an outdoor patio, then the brackish Back River, which flows forcefully to and from Buzzards Bay with each tide.

Some come for the lively bar scene with periodic live music, some for the off-the-boat fresh fish in the market, some for the reasonably priced yet inventive meals in a dining room that’s as comfortable for toddlers as for Gramma.

We come for the water fowl, and we’re never disappointed.

Sure, the fish tacos featuring corn and black bean salsa ($12) are excellent. We love the beet napolean salad ($9) a composed structure of beets with blue cheese and not much else. The seafood stew ($8 for a 12-ounce cup) is rich and creamy, and the lobster roll ($21, but often available as part of a lunch special) makes you glad you live in New England even when it snows every day for two months. We like our Cabernet Sauvignon, and they have two good ones by the glass: Josh ($9) and Five Rows ($7).

But if you have any interest in wildlife, you’ll want to visit the Lobster Trap for lunch or an early dinner during the summer, and the food will take a back seat to the scene playing out before you at the bar.

The Back River is a tidal estuary which flows into a protected area known as Phinney’s Harbor.  During our visits, we’ve watched heron, egrets, osprey, swans, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, black ducks, and more. Most recently, we watched two flocks of Canada geese converge upon one another as if they were playing out a scene from “West Side Story.” The undertow is vicious, and the birds take full advantage, propelled inland under Shore Road, then bobbing back under the railroad bridge.

Others, we’re sure, come for the unusually pleasant staff.  This being a seasonal community — one we tend to avoid in the season — many patrons are greeted with a cheerful, “When did you get back!?”

During our most recent lunchtime visit, we experienced a rare misstep: the oversized “house-made brioche croutons” accompanying the caesar salad were like bricks.  The Big Dog’s topping of very good steak tips saved his salad, and Gina thought the classic dressing on her side version offset the crouton debacle. And the slightest expression of dismay on our part drew effusive apologies from our server, and complimentary wines for each of us. Things go wrong even at the best establishments, and the front-line staff’s handling of a complaint makes the difference between a customer who won’t return, and one who enthusiastically recommends the place.  As we recommend The Lobster Trap.

The Lobster Trap
290 Shore Road, Bourne

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Brazilian Grill, Hyannis

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A Brazilian grill, as a generic term, is a style of restaurant known as a churrascaria. At a churrascaria, there are typically two all-you-can-eat things going on: acres of an outstanding, fresh, inventive salad bar with familiar favorites and some more exotic dishes; and a barbecue where a parade of waitstaff haul huge hunks of meat to your table and slice off pieces to order.

Yes, it sounds over the top, but it really isn’t.  We went with friends to the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis for lunch recently… and let us tell you about the music first, to set the tone.

The charming hostess, who like the rest of the staff seemed to be Brazilian, thought for a few moments about which of the few remaining tables — this at 2 p.m. on a Sunday — would be most comfortable to us, then led us to one directly in front of where a man with a large collection of keyboards and amplifiers was setting up. Gina cringed, anticipating a wall of noise that would ruin our lunch.

Instead, the music, by jazz singer Ravi Melo, was perfect.  Most of the songs were Brazilian Portuguese standards, with the likes of James Taylor interspersed, at a perfect volume.

We ordered a bottle of wine — a Silver Palm cabernet sauvignon for the table at $34 — from a list that includes a lot of Portuguese choices that might have been a better pairing but sadly, we’re just not familiar with them.

By the time the wine arrived, we’d already received three or four items from the parade of meats: some succulent hunks of filet mignon wrapped in bacon, moist pork tenderloins, and chicken hearts. There was flank steak stuffed with chunks of cheese, and little medallions of beef topped with mozzarella.  And little sausages. And crispy chicken wings. And lamb.  And more.

The ladies, well beyond protein overload, ventured to the salad bar and found a surfeit of green treats.  Start with mixed greens, a fistful of watercress, a premixed Caesar, or Gina’s favorite, delicate Boston lettuce. Add cool roasted carrots, hearts of palm tossed in a creamy dressing, a julienne of radishes, grilled summer squashes, and any vegetable you can imagine pickled.  Or soups! Or an array of sushi! Or hot dishes, with or without seafood!  Or even a mounded platter of cracklings.

Our orders were classified as the Dinner Rodizio at $32.95 apiece.  That’s the deal throughout the weekend, and evenings during the week. The weekday lunch portion, at just $17.95, is available until 4 p.m. There is a soup and salad option, which does not include the more exotic hot buffet options, available weekdays for just $10.95. We witnessed lots of people lining up at the grill with their takeout containers. For just $8.99 a pound, you can fill up a Styrofoam box with your choice of salad items then add your favorite meats.

And while takeout may be a good deal, we imagine the price of the box escalates pretty quickly with the juicy meats and saucy salads.  You’re really better off hanging out in the lovely restaurant. The cordial waitstaff and the pleasant atmosphere, not to mention the music when available, combine for a special dining experience.

In the near future, we’ll find out — and let you know — whether other Brazilian grills spotted in Plymouth and Dartmouth are similar.  In the meantime, we can assure you that the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis is fun, unusual, and delicious.

Brazilian Grill
680 Main Street, Hyannis

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Antonio’s, New Bedford

2015-01-17 14.01.27Spend enough time in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts, and you almost become an honorary Portuguese citizen. Most local restaurants  have kale soup and some sort of Mozambique dish on their menu. We like traditional Portuguese dishes and the zing that the colonies, notably Cape Verde and Brazil, have introduced.

That said, we must acknowledge that we’re a coupla pale-skinned Irish kids, and no Avo ever made us bacalhau. That can be good and bad when visiting an ethnic restaurant like Antonio’s.  On the plus side, it means that we didn’t grow up with a single preparation of a traditional dish and find all others just plain wrong.  Conversely, we don’t know when something has strayed so far from the traditional preparation as to be offensive to some.

Antonio’s has a very good reputation, and we’re pretty sure it doesn’t stray from tradition.  It has been around for 25 years.  At 2 p.m. one recent Saturday, every seat in the house was filled, which is weird — as you know, that’s our favored lunchtime, and we have never, ever, had to wait for a seat at that time anywhere, until we visited Antonio’s.

We were joined by Gina’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, for a late Christmas get-together and gift exchange. They all live in the New Haven, CT, area, where ethnic restaurants are so common that you can choose not just the continent of origin, but the specific country — if you don’t care for the Ethiopian style of sambusa, you can find a Somalian restaurant instead, for example. But apparently New Haven doesn’t have any Portuguese restaurants, so our choice was simple.

The beer and wine list set the tone.  Gina chose an Esporao Reserva from the Alentejo region of Portugal, while the Big Dog and Gina’s brother chose a Buzzards Bay Brewery IPA from the Westport region of Massachusetts. Everyone was happy with their selection.

For those new to Portuguese cuisine: It is carb-intensive. Most of our entrees came with a yummy yellow rice AND potatoes.  AND a delicious bread basket of fresh rolls and bread slices.  AND we ordered soups thickened by potato and/or beans. AND we ordered dizzyingly delicious custards in puff pastry for dessert.  We were all ready to run a marathon the next day, and we’re sure some people do that.

The kale soup ($2.99) was delicious, but Avo would probably be opposed. Most of the preparations we’ve seen feature an oily beef broth with red kidney beans, sliced kale leaves, and hunks of chourico. This soup base was velvety, creamy, and thick, unlike anything we had seen. There were white AND red beans in evidence.  AND macaroni. AND we’re sure there were some potatoes involved in the broth, all carrying on the carb tradition.  This version had some strips of kale leaves, but the unusual addition of cabbage, cut from the stem end in a manner that invited the curly leaves to hang together in a very appealing way. We loved this soup, and will go back just for that.

We’ll hope for bread with our soup. The overflowing basket included some slices of white bread, and a half dozen “pops,” the Portuguese rolls officially known as papo secos.

Gina’s mom ordered the Chicken Algavaria ($14.99), and it stole the show. We should have known what was in store when the affable waitress brought the rest of us silverware, and Mom a shovel.  The dish arrived in an aluminum vessel the size of a child’s wading pool.  It was chock full of shrimp, littleneck clams, and chunks of boneless chicken tossed with saffon rice. We’re kidding about the shovel and the wading pool, but after Mom ate her portion and shared oversized tastes with the rest of us, she asked for the leftovers to be divided into two separate to-go containers, and the one we took home weighed four pounds.  Four pounds! This was A BIG PORTION. At lunch!

Gina ordered the grilled swordfish ($13.99) which came with hunks of peeled white potatoes and broccoli, and took more than 60 percent of the fish and potatoes home. Big Dog ordered a lamb skewer ($13.99) which came with the saffron rice and a delicious salad, and took 70 percent of the lamb and rice home.  Gina’s brother ordered Steak Tips Diane ($15.99), a creamy preparation that came with rice and french fries of which he took home 55 percent. Slim sister-in-law ordered a crab cake dish ($9.99) and managed to finish it, which made us assume it was an appetizer portion.

Bottom line: the five of us ended up with 13 meals averaging less than $6 apiece.

We all ended the meal with a Nata Custard Tart, a special for $1.25 apiece. We’re thinking it was a puff pastry pressed into a muffin tin and filled with a thin custard. When we come back for our kale soup and pops, please add one of these to our order. It was delicious and fun.

The decor at Antonio’s is pleasant and clean but not fancy. The service is suited to a white tablecloth setting, not the stacking-chair-and-paper-placemat scene we got. Overall, we felt our expectations were exceeded throughout our visit, and there is no higher compliment to a restaurant.

Antonio’s Restaurant
267 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford
508-990-3636

 

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Making plans for this football-free weekend? If you’re near Plymouth, Gina and the Big Dog recommend Alden Park Bar & Grill. You’ll love their rustic grilled cheese and beet salad, and if they happen to have fish chowder as a special, don’t miss it!

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And if you missed our full review of Alden Park, click here.

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El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant, Taunton

elmariachiEverybody’s talking about El Mariachi.

Their original restaurant in Taunton is always packed.  A newer outpost in Easton is bustling.  At the start of the new year, they opened a restaurant in Seekonk.  And in February, they’ll be opening on Main Street in Wareham.

“Everyone” includes the Big Dog’s little sister, who had told us about the Taunton location years ago. So it seemed fitting that when we went to the original for research purposes, she and her family would join us there.

The Big Dog and his brother-in-law each began with a Presidente margarita ($9.50), which they liked.  Sis ordered  a mojito ($6.75) when our server, Isabella, let her know that fresh mint was available, and it was delicious. Gina ordered a serviceable house cabernet ($5.25) and particularly liked the colorful glass, which was very thick.

While we reviewed the extensive menu, we augmented the complimentary chips and salsa with an order of guacamole ($8.50), made tableside in a stone pot and more than enough for the five of us. The chips arrive warm, with far less salt than any version that comes from a bag.

Niece Kaiya, who is in third grade and very knowledgeable about food, recommended the carne asada ($14.95).  Knowing that she was going to order it and would probably share, we made other choices, but this was definitely a good one.  After Kaiya carefully moved aside the scallion garnish, the strips of skirt steak were flavorful and tender.

Sis ordered the fish tacos: grilled cod wrapped in flour tortillas, accompanied by a do-it-yourself slaw, so you could add as much cabbage and dressing as you like, and a mound of white rice. This is probably the healthiest option on the El Mariachi menu.

Seeking the traditional Mexican restaurant experience, Gina opted for the combo plate which featured two choices ($13.75, including a dollar extra for sour cream) from among enchilada, burrito, chimichanga, chile relleno, tostada, tamale or taco, any of which can be filled with ground beef, shredded beef, shredded chicken, shredded pork or cheese. The cheese enchilada and shredded beef burrito were good choices.  Like most of the entrees, this came with yellow rice and refried beans on an enormous plate.

Brother-in-law enjoyed arroz con camarones ($15.75), a generous dish of shrimp tossed with vegetables in a red sauce.

The Big Dog choose pork carnitas ($13.95), which was the only slight misstep of the evening.  The pork was kind of dry, which would not have been noticeable had he wrapped it in the flour tortillas with accompanying red sauce and guacamole. But there was no evidence that assembly was required, and in any case, that would have taken away from the very good taste of the pork. He took home nearly half of the very large portion, and it was excellent from the food processor rolled into the tortilla with a little mayonnaise the next day for breakfast.

Kaiya talked us into trying the churros ($4.75), delicious little strips of fried dough served with fruit topped whipped cream, melted chocolate, and caramel for dipping.  They were a perfect end to a very good meal, and we look forward to Kaiya giving us guidance during future restaurant visits.

Our very attentive servers spoke with Mexican accents and dressed in festive clothing you associate with Mexico.  The decor in this storefront restaurant is warm and welcoming, with walls adorned with colorful Mexican artifacts.  A darker bar in the space next door, accessible from inside, looked like a great place to watch a football game.  While we were there, three people got the birthday treatment, which here involves singing and having an oversized sombrero placed on your head.

One warning for the budget-conscious: the portions here are big but not super-sized, and most of the prices we noticed are $1 to $2 more than what is shown on the on-line menu.

We understand the Lopez brothers, who own and operate the growing restaurant chain, are from Mexico, and seek to replicate an authentic Mexican dining experience.  We’ve never been to Mexico but we’ve been to Taunton, and we’re looking forward to an El Mariachi opening closer to home.

El Mariachi
44 Taunton Green, Taunton

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Brew Fish, Marion

hummingbirdBrew Fish opened at the site of the former Wave early last summer and we’ve made about a gazillion visits there since, each time fervently hoping that the restaurant would deliver the across-the-board good dining experience we know they can. We were consistently thwarted:  delicious food but inattentive service, bad food but we were treated like royalty, sometimes the food and service were both just plain weird.

Our recent lunch with our friends Lee and Carl seemed like a perfect time to stop waiting and just do it. Carl is facing the worst kind of health problems.  We’ve only known him for a few years and feel cheated that we didn’t have longer together, but we’re sure that even folks who have known him their whole lives feel the same way.  We know that he is a musician and a windsurfer and that he worked as a letter carrier in Lakeville, MA, where everyone on his route knows and loves him.  He explained what we were doing wrong with our hummingbird feeder and his fix resulted in a whole flock (see one above) invading our back yard, to our delight.

And he’s made us look a little differently at the notion of procrastination.

So we were bound and determined to tell about our experience at Brew Fish this time. And that visit was the best we’ve had.

Our friends started with cranberry juice, while Gina ordered a Bonterra organic cabernet ($9) and the Big Dog chose a Moby D from nearby Buzzards Bay Brewery ($5). Brew Fish’s emphasis on local beer and wine is a real selling point in our book, and we’ve found that indecision among those seated at the bar is frequently rewarded with a slew of complimentary samples.  Also flights are available for trying the ever changing seasonal taps.

So now let us tell you about the house soup, because it freaks us out every time we go there, and this time Gina ordered it.  It’s a steamy concoction of clams, chourico, potatoes, kale, and vegetables in a creamy broth.  Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?  It is!  Gina ordered a crock ($6) and loved it.

But on the menu it’s called “ch’ale” and billed as a combination of chowder and kale soup.  Yuck!  This poor soup definitely needs an agent.

Anyhow, Gina partnered her soup with a side Caesar salad ($5) and was delighted that when she asked server Colleen to hold the parmesan hunks that so frequently mar a perfectly good plate of romaine and delicious dressing, it actually happened.

The Big Dog ordered a chicken parmesan sandwich ($12).  It was a bit dry (“over cooked”) despite a slather of marinara sauce and melted cheese, but it was also enough for six people.  He swapped out the fries for a side salad without any drama.

Lee ordered a spinach salad ($11), and got a beautiful blend of fresh baby spinach topped with bacon bits, goat cheese, red onion, and red pepper, drizzled as promised with a raspberry vinaigrette.

Carl’s Brew Fish Cheeseburger ($10) was piled high with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion, and served with a heap of pale but crispy seasoned fries.

The folks who own Brew Fish did an outstanding job of renovating the Wave space.  The interior is sleek and urban, and on a previous visit, the bartender showed us how she can control subtle neon backlights behind the rough-hewn bar and around the tray ceiling.

During our visit with Lee and Carl we sat in one of the comfortable booths that surround the open dining area.  We usually sit at the bar, where the comfy seats are among the restaurant’s great features.

The Wave was an interesting place that attracted grizzled locals, sparkly students, and families, and it appears that Brew Fish is pulling the same mixed crowd. We wish the owners well and look forward to the day when we can say with confidence that they have worked out all the kinks.

As for Lee and Carl, they’ve also introduced us to a whole brew of cool music over the few years, and we’ve made plans to join them to see a show at the Narrows Center for the Performing Arts in Fall River this weekend.

Brew Fish
210 Spring Street, Marion

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The Pasta House, Fairhaven

2014-10-26 19.45.34Here’s a spot that defies pigeonholing. You will find that it bears similarities to other places you like, but it’s so different.

It’s a restaurant that leans towards Italian food, as you might guess from the name.  But the menu is extensive — maybe overwhelmingly so. Don’t go into it thinking that your big decision of the night is going to be spaghetti? or linguine? Meatball? or sausage?

The decor is elegant, but you won’t find yourself squinting at the menu, because the lighting is bright — maybe jarringly so.  The bar area is comfortable and expansive and on the night we were there, we could see Thursday Night Football AND a World Series game… but the bar does not attract people there for the game, for some reason. It feels like a chain but it’s not.

On the night we dined with our friends Nancy and Mario, the service was impeccable — more on that in a minute — and the food was excellent.

We started with a bottle of Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, and our friends selected the Falesco Sangiovese, both of which we declared good deals at $25 a bottle. We sipped and dove into the triangles of poufy-pizza-like bread served with olive oil while flipping through the menu and a page of specials.

Each of the four entrees we ordered came with our choice of salad with many dressing choices, or a “zuppa toscana,” featuring sweet sausage, kale, and potatoes in a thin milky broth.  “Like the soup at Olive Garden,” the Big Dog whispered to Gina, who noted an almost imperceptible eye-roll by Nancy.  (We love the Olive Garden.  There, we said it.)  Nancy got the soup and liked it.  She did not mention whether it tasted like the Olive Garden’s.

The rest of us ordered the salad.  Our waitress, who didn’t identify herself but the slip said her name was Cheryl, offered freshly grated cheese and the boys nodded, but Gina, henceforth “Miss Whiney Drawers,” got the first blast of cheese, and was dismayed. Noting the barely discernible non-verbal cues, Cheryl whisked the sullied salad away, and returned seconds later with a cheese-free plate.  The salads were good, and that little soupcon of waitress expertise made them even better.

Mario often orders steak then worries about the likelihood that it will be overcooked, but he was quite happy with the tips Gorganzola ($21).  The very large tips were served over fettucine and topped with a balsamic drizzle, in addition to gorganzola cheese crumbles.

Nancy selected the veal saltimbocca ($20) after asking whether we have ethical issues with veal, phrasing the question in a manner that would make Miss Manners proud. The traditional presentation was served alongside a square plate of linguine with tomato sauce and Nancy brought a lot of it home.

The Big Dog spotted scallops on the regular menu, noted that they were from New Bedford, and that they were served over spinach pasta ($21), and saw no reason to look further.  Like Mario and his steaks, the Dog often orders scallops and frets that they will be overcooked, but he was surprised if not shocked in this case.  The scallops were moist and tender, served with a hearty cream sauce, and topped with a generous fistful of crumbled bacon.  And yummy.

The star of the evening arrived moments later: Gina’s spectacular osso bucco, a stately pork shank immersed in a bowl of polenta, festooned with sweet roasted carrots ($22). While the presentation was clearly the best of the table, and the meat and vegetables were excellent, Gina later observed that the polenta was lumpy and bland.  It was a hearty serving, with plenty for a midnight snack and lunch the next day.

Overall, we would observe that the Pasta House is an extraordinarily good value.  Each of our entrees was a substantial portion of good quality food, well worth the price before adding the very good soup or salad, along with the unique bread basket. Combined with the good service and beautiful decor, it’s a place we would not hesitate to recommend for a special occasion or important guest.

The Pasta House
100 Alden Road, Fairhaven

 

 

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Riccardi’s, Fairhaven

2014-10-01 14.00.45The 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

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