Wednesday, May 11, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN RESTAURANT REVIEW: RICETTA'S IN FALMOUTH MAINE

Review of an enjoyable restaurant written for The Maine Sunday Telegram when I served as restaurant reviewer there. Menu, prices, and possibly other information are now out of date.

How do you experience the entertaining, noisy hubbub characteristic of a large eatery in New York on an evening in sleepy, suburban Falmouth? Until a few months ago, this question might have seemed silly.

But Ricetta's new location brings to the quiet of Falmouth some of the atmosphere you find eating in places like the New York Oyster Bar. While this result does not appear to have been entirely intentional, I find the buzz and hubbub entertaining, and I hope efforts under consideration to dampen sound do not go so far as to entirely change things.

A tall, exposed wooden roof and trusses, resembling what you might expect in a ski chalet, appears to act like a big dish, gathering and reflecting sounds from all over the busy restaurant. You can hear orders called, the buzz from dozens of conversations, and the clatter of plates - all quite entertaining.

The restaurant appears to be a great success. They don't take reservations on Fridays and Saturdays, and we waited about twenty minutes after being listed. Conveniently, just behind the front desk, there is a handsome bar where you may wait with a drink.

Apart from the bar, which has some glitter, the general appearance of the restaurant is subdued, almost austere, with light oxblood walls, and this helps explain the appeal of its lively sound. But for the blond dividers creating areas of regular tables and upholstered banquettes, the room would be something of a large barn interior. There are shelves, oddly like homemade bookcases, suspended above dividers by bolts or cables between end posts, but these appear to have no use. Some of the cables hold hanging plants to soften the austerity.

A friendly hostess came to get us just about right on time. There was some awkwardness here for you cannot have your bar bill transferred to your table, so you must settle up twice. All the staff we encountered were well-trained and pleasant; our waitress was especially so.

The wine list has about a dozen listings, all but one under $25, and all available by the glass as well as bottle. Two house wines, red and white, are available by the glass, liter carafe, or half-carafe. We enjoyed glasses of Foppiano California Cabernet Sauvignon ($6.50) and Ecco Domani Italian Merlot ($5.75).

I was advised the menu is the same one used at Ricetta's original location in South Portland, a place where I have only enjoyed the popular buffet of various wood-fired pizzas. It is a substantial and serious menu and includes the pizza.

Despite the new restaurant's somewhat austere appearance, there is nothing of the kind in its food philosophy. Ricetta's is dedicated to the happy proposition that no hearty eater shall leave the restaurant unsatisfied.

We took the word Antipasti quite literally, for out of a dozen appetizers - most of which are traditional, mercifully including only one chicken-finger offering - we selected both classic antipasto and antipasto verdura (each $7.25). The antipasto plate had slices of fontina and provolone, thick-cut Genoa salami, a bit of prosciutto, pesto chicken salad, marinaded mushrooms and artichoke hearts, and pepperoncini. The verdura version had the same cheeses, a fusilli pasta salad, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, and slices of fried eggplant with a savory tomato sauce on top.

These were both attractive and tasty, and heaped with enough food to provide lunch for most people and two lunches for some. A complete (premium) antipasto combining elements of both plates might be an offering worth considering because there are parts of each appetizer that go well with those of the other, and we really ended up with more cheeese and pepperoncini than we wanted.

The menu has a choice of salads, but entrees come with a house offering of iceberg, romaine, green pepper, white mushrooms, broccoli florets, pepperoncini, red cabbage, and red onion. Few will be disappointed by its size, and the taste was good if not notable. The blue cheese dressing, however, was notable, nicely balanced and creamy, and I very much enjoyed the traditional service of oil and red-wine vinegar in flasks.

Linguini Bolognese ($9.25) with meatballs ($1.60) was a small pasta hill covered with a dense and textured layer of sauce. The sauce was good, but it did lack the piquancy and complexity that simmering green pepper and other vegetable bits bring to great Bolognese. It was exceptionally thick with clumps of ground meat, although these seemed to have the drier texture of meat previously cooked, contrasting noticeably with the meatballs which were plump and juicy. The pasta was cooked agreeably for all but extreme pasta fanciers, it being an almost impossible chore to deliver al dente pasta consistently in large, busy establishments.

Linguini with mussels marinara ($11.25) looked quite striking with the blue, black and silver of opened mussels, each releasing wisps of steam, scattered in red sauce. There was a generous helping of mussels in the marinara sauce - a simple tomato sauce flavored with oregano, sauteed onion and garlic - served over the same hill-sized helping of linguini. The mussels were delicious, nicely simmered in a sauce whose garlic flavor well suits them.

Our dolce were plain cannoli ($2.95) and tiramisu ($4.25). The cannoli were plain only in the sense of having no chocolate chips or fruit in the filling. The shell was delightfully crisp, the filling as creamy smooth as you could wish.

Tiramisu is one of those dishes whose appearance is almost unpredictable, sometimes resembling a many-layered Viennese torte and sometimes resembling scoops of pudding. Ricetta's is of the latter type, what sometimes is called the Italian version of English trifle. It is extremely rich and creamy, and if there were one thing we sampled I would strongly recommend, this would be it. But it should come safely labeled as utterly fatal to willpower and even the most scrupulously followed diet.

Our total bill was $68.


Ricetta's
240 U.S. Route 1
Falmouth
781-3100

Food: 3 1/2
Atmosphere: 3
Service: 4
Dinner hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday
11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
with the same menu for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: all major
Price range: entrees $8.25 to $11.95
Vegetarian dishes: yes
Reservations: not on Fridays and Saturdays
Bar: full
Wheelchair access: throughout
The bottom line: Hearty food with some excellence - lively sounds and subdued looks

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