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Caffé Itri

Enchanting Italian away from the Hill
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  September 3, 2008

Caffé Itri | 401.942.1970 | 1686 Cranston St, Cranston | Mon-Thurs, 11:30 am-3 pm + 4:30-9 pm; Fri, 11:30-3 pm + 4:30-10 pm; Sat, 4:30-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
If you’re looking for a change from the usual Downcity suspects, take a ride to the Knightsville neighborhood in Cranston. As you near the corner of Park Avenue and Cranston Street, the unmistakable aroma of sautéed garlic confirms your arrival at Cranston’s “restaurant row” — with half a dozen Italian-American eateries within a few blocks. Caffé Itri is one of the longest-running (at 18 years), and for very good reason, as we re-learned on a recent visit.

A summer evening midweek had brought many friends and acquaintances together to sip in the atrium-like lounge or to sup in the elegant dining room, with creamy yellow walls dominated by a large photo of the restaurant’s namesake, the southern Italian town of Itri, and a large landscape of the same area. White linens, terrazzo-style floor tiles, and contemporary glass lamps complete the restful scene.

After drinks in the lounge, we moved to the dining room and began to ponder our dinner choices more seriously after reading the specials posted in that ante-room. We had already appreciated the friendliness of our waitress in the bar when we encountered Ernie, our tireless and accommodating waiter. What a difference a competent and helpful staff can make to an entire dining experience.

Proprietor Greg Spremulli, second-generation Itrian, and his executive chef, Ramone Velasquez, have designed a fabulously tempting menu, from start to finish, with most of the desserts house-made. Patient Ernie had to make three trips to our table before we could come up with a plan. But when we did, it was a grand one.

Each side of the table shared a salad, a pasta course, an entrée, and a dessert. Even though we skipped past the appetizers — which featured clams zuppa or casino; portobellos stuffed with sausage; and cannellini beans with prosciutto — and headed for the salads, there were still 10 to choose from. Green beans with Gorgonzola and roasted pistachios tugged mightily, as did spinach with glazed walnuts and feta. But the mission fig arugula ($10.95) won out for both couples.

Our daughter Sabrina, visiting from Seattle, was the first to spy the tempting list of ingredients in this salad: mission figs, dried cranberries, grilled carrots, grilled pears, prosciutto di Parma, red onions, and house-made fresh mozzarella, not to mention arugula and a fig vinaigrette. She shared hers with her husband, Stefan, and Bill and I divvied up ours. We were all super-pleased that the descriptive promises really delivered.

Next, a perusal of the pastas ensued. There were two-dozen choices, plus another nine pasta or risotto dishes with seafood (not to mention the 17 meat dishes, with or without homemade rigatoni, fusilli, pappardelle, or ravioli). It was almost a no-brainer for Bill and me to land on the pasta puttanesca ($13.95), always a favorite; Sabrina and Stefan chose the linguine funghi ($13.95).

Both dishes featured San Marzano tomatoes, which always taste less acidic to me, thereby letting the other flavors shine through. Their linguine was graced with oyster, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms, with fresh basil to crown it.

Our puttanesca featured Gaeta (from the region near Itri) and Sicilian olives, plus plenty of anchovies, capers, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. The table grew very quiet, as we all tucked into our food with great satisfaction.

The next courses were a seafood special — halibut piccata ($18.95) for us — and a menu favorite, chicken piccata ($16.95), for them. Can you tell how much we all love butter, white wine, and lemon, the basis for the sauce on both dishes? The latter entree had prosciutto, capers, and black olives, and it was accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and grilled eggplant, zucchini, and sweet red and green peppers.

Ours was served with a wonderful risotto, packed with colorful bits of vegetables, including both white and red onions, carrots, celery, and sweet red pepper. The halibut was roasted just right, and it was more than we could finish after the generous salad and the puttanesca. So we packed up half of each entrée and began to consider dessert.

Again, the decisions were difficult. House-made desserts included the tiramisu, crème brûlée, lemon torte, chocolate mousse cake, cheesecake, cannoli, and spumoni. The spumoni came highly recommended, and it was worth every bite: chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio ice cream (made in-house) which is blended with run-soaked raisins, pistachios, chocolate chunks, and pistachios. It was amazing. But so were the chocolate-dipped cannoli with whipped ricotta inside.

Caffé Itri’s wine list is first-rate, with several whites and reds by the glass, and the mixed drinks were more than generous. Did that add to the good times had by all four of us? Or was it our waiter? Or was it just all that good food? We left there, still beaming. 
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached

  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Cheese,  More more >
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