09 April, 2010

La Masseria Ristorante

La Masseria, the spawn of a New York City restaurant with the same name, stands out on scenic Route 1 in East Greenwich. The wonderful spring blossoms and warm weather enhanced the approach to this new restaurant. Its concept is simple; rustic Italian cuisine served in a dinning room that resembles a farm house. All food would be inspired mainly from the Puglia region, though bits of Capri and Naples worked their way into the menu. The concept fits well with Rhode Island's rustic past and strong Italian influence. Designer Libby Langdon designed the interior with very nice results, though a pretty restaurant does not often make a good restaurant.

Me and my wife ate upstairs as part of a media luncheon that offered a lengthy tasting menu. The owners, Peppe and Enzo, introduced themselves. They detailed how their childhood in Capri influenced the restaurant. They introduced Chef Pino Coladonato and Manager Monopoli. They are the two in charge of the Rhode Island restaurant while the owners themselves would float between thee New York and Rhode Island locations. They made a special note that the staff had trained in the New York restaurant and transplanted to East Greenwich. Did the transplantation work?

Our meal started with a two types of rustic bread with olive oil, grissini (house made thin bread sticks) and a glass of lemony prosecco. Manager Monopoli served as our sommelier for the meal, noting he would accompany every dish with an appropriate wine. The prosecco fit the day perfectly with a light taste. The grissini tasted a tad dry, but were very flavorful. We also enjoyed a classic white italian bread and a grainy wheat bread. Alongside side the bread came a small dish of olive oil sporting what looked like capers, though we were corrected that it was infused with lentils and garlic. The mixture went well with the hardy crust and tender miche of both breads.

Our waiters then brought out the appetizer courses. The first course featured Bruschetta (small crostini topped with black truffles and fontina cheese), Fritto misto del Mare (a small selection of fried seafood), and I Cucuzielli Fritti alla Pino (fried zuchini strings). Overall, the presentation was nice but seemed a bit thrown together. The chef placed the fritto misto upon a slightly wilted red cabbage cup that took away some of the fritto misto's crispiness. The kitchen also placed a lemon-half alongside the trio. The lemon felt wildly out of place. The food, however, was delicious. Originally, we were told our bruschetta would have ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The black truffle and fontina toppings surprised us (and it felt a bit like they were trying to buy us off), though it was delicious. The Fritto misto featured wonderfully sweet scallops and shrimp, though my calamari tasted a tad old and the texture was tougher than I am used to. The zuchini strings stole the show for me, despite being the least flashy of the trio. My wife preffered the truffle and fontina crostini, which was incredibly delicious. The delicate tempura crisped the strings perfectly, indicating why this was one of the owner's favorite dishes. We enjoyed the Bortoluzzi Pinot Grigio paired with the meal, noting it fit the summery selection.

Our next appetizer course featured another house speciality, the Mozzarella farcita. This house-made cheese included a daily selection of ingredients stuffed within the delicate presentation. Our stuffing included marinated eggplant, roasted red peppers, and tender asparagus. A wonderful stainless steel-aged Puglia chardonnay paired wonderfully with this dish, and the trio of vegetables went wonderfully with the fresh cheese. Plating also improved with the stuffed cheese set upon a large coin of marinated eggplant.

The final appetizer course, Terra mare del Tavoliere (grilled octopus and cuttlefish served atop broccoli rabe and a fava bean puree) paired with Feudi di San Gregorio Falanaghina. The wine was not stand-out with the dish, but the dish itself should grace every diner's table. The kitchen perfectly grilled the cephalopods tasted fantastic. Each were wonderfully marinated in separate concoctions that highlighted the unique tastes. I enjoyed the Octopus tentacles while my wife enjoyed the cuttlefish. Both proteins tasted wonderful dipped into the puree.

The dinner courses started with the restaurant's signature Polpette di Manzo della Masseria (long Italian title for house-made meatballs). Chef Pino prepares a fresh bath daily ground from tender rib eye beef, resulting in a soft and tasty meatball. The delicate tomato sauce and fresh greens served alongside the meatball enhanced its flavor, which all went together with glass of Corvina-Rondinella wine made from Palazzo della Torre. The Palazzo della Torre was a table favorite, and it paired magnificently with the meatball. The Polpette di Manzo stands out as a simple dish that showed true proficiency and potential.

A course of gnocchi followed the meatball. Gnocchi can be fickle. I've been to many restaurants with disappointing servings of the delicate potato dumplings. My wife also eagerly anticipated the meal given my gnocchi is her favorite dish. La Masseria's serving did not disappoint. The dumplings melted in the mouth with a wonderful pink tomato-basil sauce. My only complaint were the small beads of mozzarella, I prefer nice big pieces with the gnocchi, but it's a small gripe. The wine, a Vietti Dolcetta D'Alba, paired with this course.

Next came another house speciality, the Penne Masseria. I was a bit disappointed with again having another tomato-basil sauce (present in the previous 2 dishes), though this one featured a nice smokey combination of pancetta and smoked mozzarella. The ingredients produced a very rich plate of pasta that was wonderfully seasoned. Manager Monopoli paired this dish with a lovely primitivo that he chilled in a Neapolitan style. It itself was a delicious summer wine, but I felt it did not pair with the richness of the dish.

A nice Granotto al Frutti di Mare e Fagioli followed the pair of pasta dishes. Chef Pino prepared the grain like a risoto with a nice assortment of shrimp, clams, and calamari. Unfortunately, the problems with the calamari earlier (tough) continued to this dish. The shrimp and clams also tasted a bit overcooked, though the grains were al dente. The dish was supposed to also have white beans, though I only found one in my dish. A lovely Nero d'Avola enhanced an otherwise lackluster dish.

Veal Milanese came out as the final entree course. Chef Pino coated the veal, tender-white and pounded thin, with crushed grissini. The coating worked producing a not-so-greasy milanese. A small salad of marinated tomatoes and greens accented the cutlet's seasoning. Manager Monopoli supplied a Barbera D'Asti to pair with the veal to compliment the protein. Together, the dish and wine produced a nice meal.

After all this food, how could we eat dessert? When the waiters served coffee and two wonderful slices of cake we could not say no. First, we tried the Torta di Ricotta. This smooth ricotta cheese cake would embarrass any other competitors. The wonderful flavor mixed with a fantastic texture. My wife preferred the second slice; the Torta di Mamma Paola. The soft and flour-less chocolate almond cake stood up well to the more angelic cheese cake. Almond slivers added a nice texture to the cake. Together they surrounded a nice pile of whipped cream topped with a raspberry and delicious chocolate syrup. A digestif of Muscat'asti finished a lovely meal.

Chef Pino proved the concept carried from New York to East Greenwich. The tasting menu represented the cuisine very well. I felt like I missed nothing and experience the Chef's goal. A few minor mis-steps did not destroy my experience, and my partner enjoyed her meal just as much. La Masseria has a full website for both locations.

Rating: A

La Masseria Ristorante on Urbanspoon

06 April, 2010

Harbourside Lobstermania

Rhode Island, the Ocean State, is famous for its seafood. Narragansett Bay's western shore in particular hosts an array of seaside restaurants that boast fresh seafood right off the ocean. Memories of eating at these restaurants remind me of happier times as a child. One place in particular often served as a nice place to eat on special occasions, Harbourside.

One striking change to the memory is the full title, Harbourside Lobstermania. It sounds off considering it purports to be an upscale ocean-side restaurant serving the boat crowd. The title change did not deter me though, and I looked forward to enjoying an Easter meal.

Sitting down, me and my wife noticed a limited menu boasting surf more than turf. This did not mean surf was well represented, with only 2-3 fish entrees and the other seafood were fried. I ordered the stuffed 'Lobstermania', a stuffed lobster served with a Chablis sauce. My wife, a landlubber, ordered the house sirloin. Our meals came with unlimited trips to the salad bar (unusual at a supposed high-scale eatery) and I ordered a cup of their famous lobster bisque.

The salad bar was small and ill-stocked. Everything tasted cheap. I identified the 'three-bean salad' as one sold at BJ's, which I didn't prefer because it tasted like beans in sugar syrup. The vegetables share a 'precut super-market' quality that did not fit my dining expectations. Dressings were also rather shallow tasting like even cheaper versions of Kraft selections. An offering of cheese, crackers, and bread came with the salad bar. The cheese was a big block of American cheese that looked and tasted like a deli loaf. The bread was not fresh, and tasted like potato rolls again found at most supermarkets. The crackers were Nabisco, and tasted better than the stale rolls. My bisque was nice, not too thick and tasted of nice sherry. This was the high point of our meal.

Our entrees arrived and looked lovely. Unfortunately, appearances were deceiving. My wife's turf (The sirloin) was tough and filled with large veins of fat and gristle. The poor beef choice lacked flavor which was even further covered up by a thick crust of seasonings on the outside. Her mashed potatoes were nice, but the vegetable (mashed root vegetables) tasted like a premade frozen dish. My lobster, was well stuffed to hide an otherwise lack of meat. The lobster was undersides with a very soft shell that screamed immaturity. The Chablis sauce was clearly broken and tasted off. While the lobster and stuffing tasted great, the ratio of lobster meat to stuffing was way off. My baked potato was less than 6 ounces at best and the vegetable was the same as my wife's.

For the price (20-30 dollars per entree), this food was highly disappointing. The lobster was a tad small, was stuffed with a basic stuffing that felt more like red lobster rather than yacht cuisine. My wife had better steaks at Outback steakhouse, showing the chef obviously did not select their meats. The salad bar was worst of all, and I honestly felt a tad nauseous after eating the salad. I remembered good things about this restaurant, but now my memory is dominated by failure. It's sad to think a restaurant on the sea could be so unoriginal and uninspired.

Rating: D

Harbourside Lobstermania on Urbanspoon

About Me

Rhode Island, United States
I am a lover of Food. I review restaurants, markets, snacks, wine, beer, and spirits. Life is too short to eat bad food.