Thursday, July 27, 2017

Disappointments Abound at Corfinio

Sometimes, simpler is better. Several years ago, Peter Kuplast successfully opened Italian eatery Cibo Matto Caffe in what was formerly a Bertucci’s in his native Mansfield. That quaint, casual modern Italian eatery quickly became a culinary staple at the bustling cross-section of Routes 106 and 140, with its wood-fire stove producing bubbly, charred pies, alongside delectable pasta dishes and inventive seasonal cocktails. A couple of years ago, Kuplas decided it was time to expand his business venture into Easton with Corfinio. The restaurant resides in a more expansive space once occupied by Fresh Catch and its name harkens to the city in Italy’s Abruzzo region. Portions of Cibo’s menu has been transported here, along with the same and sometimes expensive price points given Corfinio’s suburban digs.

                But two major problems exist here. Whereas Cibo’s dishes more often than not nail flavor and execution, Corfinio’s falter. And while the menu at Cibo often surprises and delights with its scope and specials, Corfinio’s feels consolidated, redundant, and truthfully, not all that creative. More ho-hum, traditional pizza and pasta dishes reside here with occasionally appealing flourishes peppered in (fire-roasted artichoke hummus).

                The restaurant’s interior is certainly swanky enough, with a grandiose, antler-shaped chandelier dominating the main dining room, cozy green banquets and a large bar (along with a 12-foot-long chef’s table where diners can enjoy a 7-course tasting with wine pairings. It’s frustrating, however, when upon making a reservation and stating that my wife and I were celebrating a 15-year anniversary dinner, that the hostess explains she’ll have us seated in one of said banquets, only to be seated at a small table (and that the restaurant proceeded to seat a family with young children directly next to us when several other tables remained unoccupied at the time). Not once was our anniversary ever mentioned by the staff. That’s just poor front-of-the house management.

                Antipasto ($10-18) are disappointing, starting with crispy brussel sprouts ($10) that possess neither the crunchy exterior (softly breaded) nor fiery kick (bland cherry pepper aioli that lacks any trace of said cherry pepper) that the menu promises. Mussels saffron ($13) contain tiny morsels of the crustaceans, while the white wine sauce in which they are reduced still reeks of the smell of wine (if cooked properly, the wine odor should be undetectable), evidence that the kitchen needed to simmer the broth at least another five to ten minutes. Two accompanying large slices of grilled crostini, however, were decent enough, if there’s a positive takeaway here.

                Pasta – a focal point and strength at Cibo – was equally and surprisingly off-key at Corfinio. Fettucini Bolognese ($21) lacked finesse, with droopy, overcooked strands of pasta (not even remotely close to al dente) and the barely-there-at-all sauce that was not only unseasoned, but resulted in dried-out chunks of ground up veal, pork and beef.

                Cocktails ($11) were slightly better, but the bartender had a heavy hand mixing an Old Easton (the restaurant’s riff on the Old Fashioned) that was excessively sweet, the result of an infusion of honey and apple slices that overpower the bourbon, what should be the drink’s star attraction.

                I had heard from close friends who had recently visited Corfinio’s that the eatery’s opening kinks had been worked out, resulting in positive dining experiences. To this reviewer’s eyes (and stomach), Corfinio resembles that annoying little brother vying for attention and trying to emulate his older sibling, but no matter how hard he tries, just can’t keep up and ultimately falls short of expectations. With more sure-handedness and execution from its kitchen and a revamped menu that generates excitement in lieu of yawns, perhaps one day it still can.