Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vito's By the Park, Hartford, CT July 2009

Food: C+
Service: B

Joanne and Amy write:

Amy and I penciled in a couple of RRC dates at the end of the school year. We didn't want to go the summer without seeing each other or without a review, and we thought we might try another Italian restaurant, so we settled on Vito's by the Park. Here I admit I had an ulterior motive--1000 points for a Monday night reservation on OpenTable.

I have been to Vito's multiple times, but mainly for cocktails and happy hour. Years ago I remember a great experience with lobster ravioli, as well as other appetizers, but couldn't remember the last time I sat down for dinner there. Clearly, it was time.

I too had been to Vito’s a few times, a couple times for dinner, a couple times for happy hour, but it has been a while. I was happy to walk in and see Joanne already at the bar, which was offering complementary pizza to its guests. We had a drink at the bar, but saved our appetites for the meal.

It wasn’t a particularly busy night, and we were able to choose a seat by the open French doors with a cool breeze and view of nearby Bushnell Park. We chose to share a bottle of the decent but not spectacular, specially-made-for-Vito’s Cabernet sauvignon, and perused the menu. I was in a seafood mood, and decided on the vongole oreganata to start, followed by the lobster ravioli entrée.

There were four clams to the vongole oreganto appetizer plate, and they were tender, cooked well in their own juices, and topped with a spicy breadcrumb mix and finely chopped bacon. I’m a big clams casino lover, and these being so similar, I enjoyed them very much with a few squirts of lemon. I declined Joanne’s invitation to try her lobster ravioli, and instead helped myself to the bread basket as we waited for entrees.

I went with what I remembered being good and ordered the lobster ravioli appetizer. It was as I remember, but this time (years of dining out and palate development later) I thought the ample vodka crème sauce competed with the lobster ravioli—and won. I kept thinking the rich sauce with a sundried tomato depth could have been the star, served with penne as a stand alone dish, or perhaps with a few shrimp or some chicken. It was richer than it needed to be with lobster ravioli, and obscured the flavor of the ravioli filling. That being said, I enjoyed them still, and ate them all since Amy was getting an entrée portion and refused my offer to share. Lucky me, I also tasted a one of her clams and agree that they were tender and delicious.

For my entrée I debated between the Bolognese and shrimp scampi and ultimately chose to stay with a seafood theme (and against what Amy said harkens a cold fall night). The shallow bowl had a perfect portion of pasta and shrimp, with an interesting addition of capers. As I prepared to eat it, it seemed a bit soupy, and every bite of fettuccine that sloshed through the broth as I twirled it around my fork left me looking for the flavor of garlic. Maybe it was in the shrimp? No. Not there either. Not even in the thin broth left on the bottom of the bowl in which I did find a couple of garlic slices. Alas my shrimp scampi was bland, and disappointing, and left me wishing I had tried the Bolognese.

I had an idea of what was coming with the lobster ravioli since Joanne had it for her appetizer, but the menu described the entrée as being accompanied by asparagus spears and topped with lobster meat. Several asparagus spears were present, but they were slightly overcooked, with no “snap.” More disappointing was the minute amount of lobster found inside the ravioli, and on top, I only found a bit of knuckle meat so drenched in the sauce that I mistook it for a chunk of tomato. I loved the vodka cream sauce that the ravioli came in, but—as with Joanne’s appetizer portion—there was so much of it that it overpowered any chance of tasting any lobster that might have been there.

It was difficult to choose a dessert, but the New York-style cheesecake with fresh berry compote was one we could both agree on. It was everything it promised to be – smooth, creamy, and not too dense cheesecake on a thin graham cracker crust. The berry topping was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and the entire thing paired well with our ice-cold limoncellos.

Overall, the service was good on this not-very-busy night, but we were both disappointed with our pasta dishes, something that should be basic fare in an Italian restaurant. In the future, we would probably consider Vito’s for happy hour, but no more.