Cuisine: Modern Italian with a twist
Service: Always polite. Sometimes efficient, sometimes not organized at all.
Prices: Appetizers $9 to $13; first courses $14 to $23; entrees $22 to $54
Value: A little pricey for the size of the portions and the on-again, off-again execution and service.
Recommended dishes: Napoli fusilli della nonna ($18), veal saltimbocca ($29), everything from the miniature dessert cart ($3 each)
Verdict: Angelina’s has potential, but there are still some things (service, certain dishes and the misspelled Italian words on the menu) that need improvement. The dessert, however, is right on the money every time.
That’s the first thing you think when you walk into Angelina’s Ristorante’s impressive foyer.
And that’s certainly what you want to hear if you own a restaurant that’s been practically reinvented from the ground up.
Angelina’s announces pure luxury — from the majestic, multi-story glass wine cellar, a cylindrical room that holds Angelina’s rich collection of more than 300 bottles, to the huge bar topped with beautiful yellow marble to the opulent draperies to the line of private nooks — all of it designed to create the feeling that you’re in a Michelin-rated European restaurant.
It promises a VIP experience, but over multiple visits, we found that Angelina’s, which has been open about six months, delivers uneven service and execution of its Italian with-a-twist fare.
On our first visit, we decided to sample the chef’s antipasti platter. The small ($16, large $24) turned out to be just enough for one. That’s two thin slices of Italian salami, one of prosciutto, and one of bresaola along with a handful of tiny Taggiasca and Gaeta olives and a few bites of parmesan, gorgonzola and taleggio cheeses. Not a lot, especially when you consider the price.
Of course, there’s the mound of the homemade giardiniera that dominated the plate. The bad news: The mix of cauliflower and carrots pickled in oil and vinegar wasn’t particularly tender, tasting as if they hadn’t been pickled long enough.
The trio of ceviches ($12) we ordered on a different visit worked out better. The small bites of tuna, scallop and snapper were marinated in citrus and served with shaved fennel, grapefruit radish and yellow pepper relish, respectively. All three pairings were delicate enough to let the seafood flavors shine through the marinade. Likewise, the sweet and tangy accompaniments paired nicely with the tenderness of the fish.
When it comes to entrees, the chef at Angelina’s seems to know that there’s more to Italian cooking than tomatoes, basil and olive oil and has included dishes more sophisticated than spaghetti and meatballs. Some dishes work well, a welcome change from the usual Italian restaurant fare. That’s the case with the veal saltimbocca ($29), a dish I usually don’t order in restaurants because it’s hard to find someone who can cook the thin slices of veal without turning them tough and chewy. The veal I ordered at Angelina’s was well-prepared and beautifully presented. There was a neat stack in the middle of a rectangular dish: veal scaloppini alternated with prosciutto drizzled with a Marsala and sage sauce. Mushroom and caramelized onion mashed potatoes sat on one side and sautéed kale on the other. The meat was tender and juicy and all the flavors of this Italian classic were there: the prosciutto infused the veal with a mild saltiness and the Marsala added a subtle sweetness to the slight peppery flavor of the sage. Saltimbocca literally means “jumps into the mouth.” Angelina’s veal did just that: It made me reach for bite after bite, enjoying my dinner in satisfied silence.
But I wasn’t always that pleased. On another visit, I ordered a butternut squash ravioli ($17), a delicacy from the Northern Italian province of Mantua, But I was in for a bitter disappointment. The eight homemade ravioli, which were stuffed with a mound of roasted squash and mascarpone cheese about the size of a quarter, were served with a “savory citrus tomato butter” and topped with truffled almonds. Sadly, the butter had such a strong lemony flavor it overwhelmed all the other ingredients. If the almonds were truffled, I couldn’t taste it. There is a reason chefs in Italy strictly serve this dish with a simple butter and sage sauce: If you can’t taste the sweetness of the squash, there’s no point in eating the ravioli at all.
I’ve also tried another pasta dish at Angelina’s, one that’s worth ordering. The Napoli fusilli della nonna ($18) is a savory dish that will leave both carb maniacs and protein lovers happy. Hand-rolled short pasta is tossed with a slow-cooked meat ragout and topped with shaved Pecorino cheese. The meat sauce was seasoned to perfection (no low-sodium nonsense here) and it generously dressed the fusilli. The meat was moist and buttery and falling apart in my mouth like the braised stew I used to love as a child.
The bucatini carbonara ($14), we found out, can be a hit or miss. Most chefs don’t include it on their menus because its success (or failure) depends on two things: a very delicate egg and cheese concoction and how quickly the finished dish can make it to the diner. On one occasion, our carbonara was well executed. The hot bucatini was tossed with raw beaten eggs, parmesan cheese and crackled pepper. Crispy prosciutto, pancetta and speck, a cured meat from South Tyrol, gave the carbonara its distinctive smoky saltiness. On another occasion, however, the carbonara we ordered was lacking cheese, which translated into a runny and bland pasta dish that had nothing to do with the original dish.
Service turned out to be inconsistent as well. Sometimes it was diligent and professional. Sometimes it was polite and enthusiastic but vanished when we needed it most. Say “It’s a pleasure to serve you” all you want, but follow it up ... well, with service.
Whatever you decide to order for dinner, reserve some room for dessert. The warm zeppoli ($7) is amazing, although misspelled on the menu (which is a annoying faux pas for a restaurant that purports to specialize in Italian food). Deep fried balls of dough are rolled into sugar and served with a trio of dipping sauces: a delicate brandy reduction, a gooey caramel sauce and bittersweet melted chocolate. The dough was light and, although deep fried, didn’t taste like oil and wasn’t greasy.
When we were too full to order a big dessert, we indulged in one of the miniature treats the waitress presented us on a tray. They all are $3 each and range from an espresso cup filled with creamy, delicious Tiramisu to an almost bite-size mascarpone cheesecake with raspberry orange compote. They were so good and they were sized so appealingly, we always ended ordering more than one each. Angelina’s might have let us down with a couple of the main dishes, but dessert was always a wonderful experience.