I thought I would follow up yesterday's review of Ristorante Pavarotti with another review of a local Italian restaurant, one which is relatively new and where I recently dined. Caffe Italia opened a few months ago in Wakefield and they also have a second restaurant in Marblehead. They were previously located in East Boston. My dining experience at Caffe Italia was better than at Pavarotti.
The restaurant is small, maybe seating 30-40 people, with tables to both the left and right sides of the door. There is also a mostly enclosed bar area which seemed quite active on the evening I was there. It has a nice ambiance, a bit more upscale, though it tended to be a bit noisy, the source being the bar area.
They have a full liquor license so you can get cocktails, beer or wine. The wine list has about 20 wines available by the glass, averaging about $8 per glass. Though the list is mostly Italian, there are selections from all over the world. There are some good choices on the list though I should note that the menu does not list vintages. I had a glass of the Jean Bousquet Malbec ($7.50), an Argentine wine that I know and enjoy.
The menu is less traditional Italian cuisine and more Italian inspired dishes. The menu has about a dozen appetizers (priced $9-12), five salads ($6-10), soup, about 11 pasta entrees (averaging $18), about 12 main courses (averaging $22), and seven side dishes ($6-7). The menu has plenty of interesting and diverse selections.
Prior to our food arriving, we received a basket of rolls and there was oil on the table. The rolls appeared homemade but they were not warm and had been a bit over baked. The rolls have potential but did not achieve it this time.
To begin our meal, we started with the Arancine ($9) and Della Casa Salad ($6). I had ordered the Potato Fondant side ($6) and it was brought with the appetizers, though I would have preferred it came with our entrees.
The Arancine were large risotto balls folded with bolognese sauce, fontina and Parmesan cheese and served atop marinara sauce with a side of creamy Parmesan dip. These were quite good, with a nice crispy exterior and a cheesy interior. The risotto was cooked well, not too mushy, and I enjoyed both the marinara and Parmesan dip. The Della Casa salad had romaine lettuce, tomato, and a red onion white balsamic vinaigrette. It was a good sized salad for the price with fresh veggies. The Potato Fondant, braised potatoes with butter and Parmesan, did not impress me. They were like boiled potatoes that had been lightly fried and then sprinkled with Parmesan. And the potatoes were much firmer than I think they should have been. I have had much better Potato Fondant elsewhere.
For entrees, I really enjoyed the Risotto Chicken, Radicchio and Smoked Mozzarella with Port Wine Sauce and Parmesan ($18), though I had the Radicchio omitted from the dish. The Risotto was cooked perfectly and had a strong, smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. The risotto was topped with numerous pieces of sauteed chicken, moist and flavorful. It was a good-sized dish and very filling. The Chicken Marsala with Apples ($18) was sauteed with caramelized onions, fresh oregano, and toasted almonds. Though this dish was also good-sized with tasty chicken cutlets, the sauce was a bit too sweet.
I had the Tiramisu ($7) for dessert, which was like a sundae in a cocktail glass. There was lots of mascarpone mousse atop the lady fingers. It was good though not my preferred type of Tiramisu.
Service was excellent, and one of the servers used to work at Savory Tastes Cafe. The restaurant was fairly busy and it seemed to be running well. Overall, I liked the dinner, with a couple of high spots, but there were a couple items which did not impress. I will return to try some other dishes which peaked my interest. It will also allow me to see how consistent they are. And I will be sure to report back.
21 Water Street