Monday, May 20, 2013

Zooma Trattoria’s Flavors Hit Warp Speed

Who needs the North End when you can find equally sensational and innovative pasta dishes in Providence’s Federal Hill? Zooma Trattoria serves up some of the finest, tastiest Neapolitan cuisine I’ve enjoyed in recent memory, and this Atwell Avenue establishment was a much more pleasant culinary surprise than I anticipated it would be.

Zooma’s atmosphere is warm and modern, if not slightly garish for its no-frills Atwells Ave locale. There are muted magneta walls, feathered chairs, large murals, and even larger chandeliers. Two large dining rooms are filled with customers and lots of noise. Fortunately, my wife and I are seated at the kitchen table, where are backs are turned away from much of the bombast and enables us to pay closer attention to the entertaining kitchen crew who meticulously, effortlessly prepare meals as the kitchen expediter shouts out orders. We’re also closer in proximity to the wonderful aromas emanating from the plates. The head chef graciously hands us our meals piping hot from the pot without breaking a sweat. The setting feels private and enthralling all at once.

Zooma opened in late 2004, but underwent a transformation when its present head chef, Jeffrey Burgess – who was a protégé of acclaimed chef Mario Batali (who is soon opening up a highly anticipated pasta/pizza joint of his own in Boston’s Fort Point District) –took over the kitchen. One should expect that any chef mentored by the likes of Batali to have mastered both pasta and pizza, and that is exactly where Zooma excels. My suggestion: bypass the appetizers (although dishes like the $12 pepperoni ripieni – a spicy sausage, risotto, and Montasio cheese stuffed bell pepper – sounds intriguing, while a complimentary house specialty of filet mignon spicy stew is a bit bland), and head straight to anything cooked with a flour base.

Zooma’s Neapolitan pizzas and pastas are made with high-end Caputo “00” flour, and the pizzas (all $14), although slightly doughy in texture, are perfectly crisped and charred in an 800 degree wood-fired oven. The Diavola, made with sweet house tomato sauce, spicy salami, and creamy mozzarella, possesses a firm crust that never wavers under its intensely flavorful toppings.

Pastas ($15-$28) are all made in-house by and, as evidenced by the impressive, glass-enclosed pasta-making room - the pastaficio - that appears on the left side of the entrance. The TLC that Burgess and his team place into pasta making is on full display in dishes such as the zesty tagliatelle nere ai gamberi ($24), with unique black ribbon pasta with four plump jumbo shrimp, garlic, chilies, tomatoes, and scallions. Even better? Since I was wavering between two dishes, the kitchen expediter took it upon himself to order on my behalf a combination plate. One half consisted of tortellini vino rosso - goat cheese-filled red wine ravioli soaked in a brown butter and orange reduction. The ravioli’s appearance came as advertised, possessing a striking red-tinged color, and the tartness of the goat cheese contrasting with the sweetness of the reduction were heavenly. The plate’s other magical half could have easily posed as a decadent dessert: pumpkin-stuffed ravioli topped with crushed amaretti cookie crumbles and grapes. Once again, the contrasts in textures and flavors – crunchy cookies against pillowy dough; the hot, sweet pumpkin filling with the cold, mild acidity of the grapes –work in perfect harmony. It’s a revelatory dish, one in which technique and just the right touch of creativity work in tandem, while the ingredients don’t overwhelm, but showcase the real star of the dish: the pasta itself.

Refreshing cocktails ($10) – playfully served in tall, narrow glasses - are stiff, yet nicely balanced and complex. A Dirty Lemonade (vodka, muddled fresh lemons, club soda, and Chambord raspberry lemonade over ice) is a refreshing seasonal drink, while I cozy up to the Zooma, a unique bittersweet concoction made with prosecco, Crown Royal, grapefruit, and elderflower liquor over ice. The wine list is extensive and reasonably priced, ranging from more interesting varieties (a $9 glass of Sangiovese/Merlot blend, Monte Antico, from the Tuscan region is a lighter, more suitable red wine to pair wit hearty pastas) to the more familiar (Cigar Box Malbec, $7/glass).

Service is relaxed and our waiter is extremely polished knowledgeable of the menu. Another nice touch was the restaurant’s acknowledgement of even the slightest delays, as evidenced by the aforementioned free stew, as well as a glass of wine that was removed from our tab. The fact that complimentary valet parking exists and that nearby confectionary haven Pastiche is within short walking distance only enhances Zooma’s allure. I eagerly look forward to sampling more of Chef Burgess’s sophisticated pasta. It just might keep me from frequenting the North End for good.

No comments: