Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rizzuto's, West Hartford, CT June 2008 Grade: B+

Amy writes:

A new place recently opened at Blue Back Square in West Hartford, so J and I naturally had to go check it out. The restaurant is called
Rizzuto’s Wood-Fired Kitchen and Bar and is the second location to be opened (the other is in Bethel).

First, the space is pretty – very open, modern, with mirrors and glass everywhere. We were slightly confused by the dimensions and orientation of the bar – no matter where you sat, the entire restaurant was behind you. Not good for paranoid people… I also thought the drawing of a cow over the kitchen door was a bit strange, but otherwise liked the airy space.

We were there for a late lunch and were able to order from the lunch menu which ends at 4. The classic Italian menu starts with small plates of meats, cheese, vegetables and/or fish priced individually or in groups of one’s choice. There are several salads, both starter and entrĂ©e size, to which one can add protein. Next comes the wood-fired pizzas, paninis, and pastas, and finally, for heartier appetites, entrees and sides. Several specials were touted from large chalkboards in the dining area.

The wine selection, primarily Italian, is excellent. I started by ordering a bottle of Donnafugata, a wine I was surprised to see outside of Italy, where I first experienced it. I had noticed it on the online menu and was thinking of that wine all day. Unfortunately, I was disappointed as they were out. I chose the Peppoli Chianti instead, which was good, but not what I had been lusting after. J went with a white Piedmontese Gavi by the quartino, and pointed out that someone missed the lesson on volume in science class. Glasses are poured from small, six-ounce decanters. They are technically not quartinos, as described on the menu, and therefore, they are not a “greater value” as stated on the website. If you’re going to have more than one glass, go for the bottle. You can always take home the remainder.

We split an order of mussels. They were good, small and sweet, with lots of nice buttery sauce, and bits of proscuitto, but were missing nice crusty bread or toast points or toasted baguette slices or something for dipping into the sauce. The bread we were given was limp and spongy and generally unsatisfying, so the sauce went virtually untouched.

Next we shared a salad of baby spinach with caramelized onions, pancetta and gorgonzola cheese. It sounded great on the menu, and it was good, but it didn’t meet our expectations. It needed a little crunch and sweet balance. The caramelized onions and pancetta were few and far between, and didn’t add enough sweetness to the tangy, salty dressing. The gorgonzola cheese was creamy and delicious, but it either needed to be crumbled better or—as mentioned above—needed toasted bread slices for spreading, which then would eliminate the need for croutons for crunch.

I was nervous about the pizza after trying the bread. But the prosciutto, arugula and mozzarella pizza was very good. The crust was deceptively light and crisp, and the ingredients were fresh and nicely enhanced by a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It would have been better served with thin slices of parmesan rather than a smattering of shreds done table side. Also, the size was clearly individual but not priced so - $16 dollars seemed high for a 9, maybe 10-inch thin crust pie.

Dessert was delicious, and was the highlight of the meal. It’s called “Toasted Almond Panna Cotta” and was served with a salted caramel sauce and generous piece of almond brittle. The custard was delightfully creamy and sweet, and the caramel was salted just enough to balance out that sweetness. It reminded me a little of a Snicker’s bar, but in a good way. One small suggestion, though - someone from management should take a walk across the street to Crate and Barrel to pick up some inexpensive, but more appropriate dessert dishes. Eating panna cotta out of a water glass was a little awkward.

Perhaps they’re still working out the kinks. We had some ups and downs, but both of us agreed that we’d try it again. At least for dessert…

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