Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rosetta’s in Canton an Italian Restaurant Nonna Would be Proud of

“A bottle of red, a bottle of white, it all depends on your appetite.” I couldn’t shake Billy Joel’s classic ode to Italian cuisine in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” as I dined at Rosetta’s Italian Restaurant in Canton, MA. The eatery is located in the town center, in an unassuming white building it shares with other tenants and what was once Rosario’s restaurant. Gone are the cramped quarters, rambunctiously noisy atmosphere, and blue collar service, replaced with a front to back dining room that lends to more intimate dining and conversations. The wait staff is friendly and patient, if not a bit too slowly paced (a 2 plus hour sitting on a not so busy Thursday evening). But that’s beside the point. If the rather non-descript building in which Rosetta’s resides is considered unassuming, then consider the food itself - much of it handmade and packed with bold flavors – a declaration that this eatery is a noteworthy addition to Canton and the local dining scene.

This is in large part to its staff, helmed by an owner who served in the Armed Forces for twenty years and strives for perfection, while a key member of his wait staff served as Food Manager for Quincy Hospital for ten years prior to its recent closure. The menu also boasts a very affordable price point (most appetizers are $6-$8, while large entrees range from $12-$16 and desserts top out at $7). The kitchen is also very flexible accommodating requests for substitutions.

Appetizers are surprisingly not Italian-inspired (perplexing sides of nachos, potato skins, and chicken wings don’t necessarily pair well with a bottle of vino). With that said, the BBQ crazy wings my son orders possess a wonderfully crispy exterior and a meaty, tender interior. As for entrees, the veal marsala is the most satisfying version I’ve consumed since Delfino’s memorable take in Roslindale. The veal was extremely tender, while the sauce – one that so many restaurant’s claim can produce but very few properly execute – is pure heaven: a thick, buttery, topping laced with fresh mushrooms. The meat was paired with house-made parpadelle, perhaps a tad undercooked (not quite al dente), but the noodles were a delicious complimentary sauce-sopper, nonetheless. The veal parmigiana was no slouch, either, a mammoth piece of perfectly breaded meat topped with a zesty, hearty marinara sauce.

Desserts are decent, if not less memorable. While the tiramisu’s cake was spongy and nicely soaked in rum, and a spiced homemade carrot cake was warm and comforting, both suffered from excess frosting. I’m afraid White’s Bakery (Brockton, Mansfield) and Montilio’s (Braintree) would be the nearest locations, outside of the North End, to find that perfect cannoli.

Rosetta’s also stocks a very reasonably priced ($6-9 by the glass, $22-40 by the bottle), short selection of wines. About a half dozen reds and whites primarily hail from Italy with a few outliers from California and Washington. A fruity La Maialina “Gertrude” Tuscan red blend and a complex, velvety J Lohr cabernet provided noteworthy sips.

As our meal concludes, I find myself gravitating back to the apt lyrics of that classic Billy Joel tune. “We’ll get a table near the street, in our old familiar place.” That’s what Rosetta’s is: nothing flashy on the outside, taking its place alongside busy Washington Street, and yet, creating surprisingly well executed, flavorful Italian cuisine. This eatery can most certainly become that old familiar place both couples and families should seek out for a satisfying dining experience.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Los Andes Faces a ‘Mountain’ of Scrutiny

If the Andes in South America represent the largest continental mountain range in the world, then the Providence-based restaurant, Los Andes, typifies a steep decline from the lofty expectations and reputation that precedes it. Situated in a rather sketchy, dilapidated neighborhood on Chalkstone Avenue (most definitely off the beaten path from the more polished downtown area and the Italian-American charm of the Hill), the restaurant’s exterior more closely resembles the now shuttered Whitey Bulger South Boston bar Triple O’s (replete with brick exterior, blue awning and illuminated signs from the windows harkening to the 1970s) than a modern, inviting setting. And yet, inexplicably, Los Andes features free valet service and servers in suits and ties that seem out of synch with its ultra-casual ambience and d├ęcor (including a large fish tank separating an old-school bar from the main dining room). It’s evident that the restaurant is trying too hard to overcompensate for these shortcomings, and we haven’t even touched our food yet.

                That’s not to say that some of the very affordable Peruvian and Bolivian inspired meat and seafood dishes don’t reach the culinary heights that Los Andes’s name implies. A ceviche martini ($9.95) is stuffed with fresh tilapia, squid, shrimp, and mussels, a solid seafood cocktail. It’s relatively well seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice (perhaps applied a tad too generously given a trace of excess sourness) and cilantro. My dining companion and I - always the adventurous, Anthony Bourdain-like eaters that we are - are fascinated by and immediately gravitate towards a unique special of llama tacos ($11.99), which are packed with surprisingly tender, un-gamey shredded meat. Empanadas de pollo ($2.95) are satisfying, two flakey pastries filled with nicely seasoned shredded chicken (a cheese version, however, is quite bland).

                While most entrees (majority of which range from $11.95-$19.95) show promise, they often fail to live up to the hype. The menu is laced with exciting options at first glance, but upon closer review, is extremely redundant and protein/carb heavy, as most dishes are accompanied by fried eggs, rice, and yucca. The Jalea (Peruvian fisherman medley, $16.95) is packed with a generous portion of seafood that was nicely battered with kiko soy and garlic, but the chalaca salsa it was topped with was far too mild, while some of the fish itself – seemingly undercooked - left my stomach in knots after two unsuccessful attempts to consume it. Paella ($16.95) was a satisfactory, traditional version that could have benefitted from additional heat, smokiness, and a bit more grittiness on the rice.

                Fortunately, I have a sweet tooth, and it was satisfied with a delightful house special of passion fruit coconut cheesecake (all of the desserts were shown off a la carte by our server), the cheesecake airy and light, while the coconut flakers were discernably scrumptious.

                Service was adequate, our waitress knowledgeable and competent enough with the exception of an extremely odd, uncomfortable exchange I shared with her over an incorrectly made cocktail. When I noticed that my drink was mixed with neither fresh pineapple slices or jalapeno liquor, the waitress never apologized, neither offering me a new drink nor comping it altogether from our bill. Instead, she replied that “… the bartender must have been out of pineapple, so that’s why you got what you got.” Neat.

                But given all of the surrounding hype that Los Andes has achieved on reviewer sites like Yelp, the restaurant evokes the same sort of response from me – merely a shrug. What’s the big deal about this place, after all? I suppose if the food is slightly above average quality and reasonably priced, the masses will approve. Me? I’d rather take my culinary expedition elsewhere prior to scaling the culinary heights of Los Andes. Its peaks simply aren’t high enough to warrant enough excitement for a return trip.