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Antonio’s Trattoria

Comforting elegance
By CHRIS CONTI  |  October 21, 2009

The Knightsville section of Cranston is an undeniable haven for Italian home-cooking, where legendary portions (Marchetti's), chic hotspots (Caffe Itri and L'Osteria), and marquee chef/owners (Tony Papa's) have successfully rubbed elbows along a suburban Cranston intersection. But don't forget the little guy on the corner -- Antonio's Trattoria. For those who haven't visited since their modern-decor makeover (complete with an updated logo) in late '07, you will find pleasure in the sleek new digs (including a terrific bar and lounge area, plus flower-laden al fresco dining) while knocking down a chicken parm or veal marsala with perfectly al dente linguini.

The renovated interior is equal parts elegant and comfortable. A dining area in front and a smaller room adjacent to the lounge area offers more space than you would expect when driving by. Things were quiet during our 8 pm arrival; we joined a few regulars dining at the bar. Behind us were three plush, horseshoe-style tables stylishly partitioned off for privacy, where a couple were relaxing over a bottle of Prosecco. The wine list covers the bases, with bottles classified by American and Italian red and white varietals, as well as wines by the glass. The "it all looks good" appetizer adage couldn't ring more true at Antonio's, so we agreed on bypassing dessert (well aware of their famous inhouse banana bread pudding) in favor of going bananas on the appetizer selection. I had Arancini ($8.95) on my mind before we hopped in the car so that was a lock, along with the Portobello Carpaccio ($10.50). Our server/bartender Mark assuredly guided us toward a third, giving the nod to the Beef Carpaccio ($10.95) over the antipasto trio platter. We made note of the accoutrement to the basket of warm and crusty Italian bread -- olive oil with a dab of ricotta sprinkled with black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simple yet unique.

We eat with the eyes, they say, and the presentation on all three apps was picturesque, the flavors as vivid and focused as the layout. Three divinely fried, sphere-shaped risotto cakes sat atop a parmigiana cream and drizzled with a red pepper coulis that provided a nice contrast, but the star is that creamy interior of rice, peas, and prosciutto unfettered by the crunchy, deep-fried exterior. The carpaccio starters were equally pleasing to the senses, with a trio of millimeter-thick slices of roasted portobellos hiding under a mound of arugula dotted with a saute of grapes, pine nuts, and red onion, with a generous splash of balsamic vinaigrette; the plate was flanked by a bite-size pair of pan-fried fresh mozzarella. Our carpaccio of beef stopped us in our tracks, though. The balsamic and arugula delivered a nice twang and textural contrast, but the Dijon aioli and shaved Parmigiano accentuated the melt-in-your-mouth experience, as we coaxed the paper-thin beef from the plate to a piece of crostini.

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