Bartolino’s may have moved only a few blocks down the street, but the new place is light years from the old. Now located in the new Drury Inn at Hampton and Wilson avenues, the restaurant is a very gourmet blend of Italian dishes with a classic French twist, with the help of chef Gianfranco Munna, who joins the venture direct from Italy.
Munna’s focus is true to the culinary customs of his homeland: fresh, made-to-order meals with authentic ingredients. The menu is pretty much all-new, eschewing typical American-Italian fare like mostaccioli and spaghetti with meatballs. Instead, Munna makes every dish new and inventive, he adds duxelles to his filet, velouté to his Mediterranean chicken and Boursin to his arancini.
The new restaurant, an osteria, technically a casual, family-style eatery, is attractively appointed with warm, yellow walls and dark woods. It’s a big place, with a large lounge to the right, a big central dining room with windows to the outdoors, and a couple of smaller tangential rooms. From the look of things on a recent weekend night, Bartolino’s has retained its loyal customer base, as well as added new business.
The appetizer menu has about a dozen offerings, including tempters like risotto crab cakes and artichokes stuffed with goat cheese and hollandaise. We chose arancini ($7) and Sicilian mussels ($12). The deep-fried rice balls translate, literally, to ‘little oranges,’ which is what the balls look like. They’re made with arborio rice and cheese, in this case mozzarella and Boursin, coated with crumbs and deep fried. These were a little different in that the cheese was in the center, the rice on the outside, rather than all mixed together. They were crisp, not the least bit greasy, and when opened, runny with the creamy Boursin. They sat on a dollop of marinara sauce and another of bechamel, each delectably house-made, although more sauce would have been welcome.
The mussel dish, made with sweet, tender, green-lipped mussels, was a stand-out, served in a very flavorful broth of garlic, capers, diced peppers, onions and crushed red pepper, which gave it a slight bite. It also contained a few basil leaves and a smattering of kalamata olives and was served with crostini.
The half-dozen salads are similarly enticing, and we ordered the Caesar ($7), one of the most unique I’ve seen. Hearts of romaine stood upright atop a thick slice of toasted bread topped by a couple of anchovies, a twist of lemon and crisp, savory parmigiano wafers. As soon as you attempt to eat it, the tower tumbles and mixes with the various dabs of creamy dressing decorating the plate. The dressing is salty and delicious, with hints of pepper, lemon and garlic.
The pastas are all tempting, notably the chef’s signature risotto (made with eggplant, leeks, red wine, mozzarella and shrimp) and lobster ravioli ($19), which I couldn’t pass up. It was a good choice. The house-made pasta pockets were stuffed with actual chunks of lobster and smothered by its thick, creamy Nantua sauce, a classic French blend of crawfish reduction, bechamel and cream. This one was laced with Galliano, an Italian liqueur reputedly made with 80 herbs, roots and spices and tasting distinctly of anise. The effect here was sweet, with earthy undertones.
A Sicilian filet ($29) yielded an 8-ounce steak with barely detectable breading topped with mozzarella and duxelles sauce, another classic French preparation. The finely chopped mushrooms and shallots were sauteed in butter and red wine, and finished with cognac. On the plate was a tower of amazing, thick potato wedges that had been peeled and deep fried to yield a very crisp exterior and remain soft and buttery inside. Also accompanying the steak was a medley of sauteed fresh zucchini and carrots.
The calamari fra diavolo ($17) was another stand-out. A generous portion of tender squid was served in a spicy marinara sauce laced with garlic, capers and crushed red peppers. I wish it had come with pasta, though, to sop up that great sauce! An order of chicken Mediterranea ($18) was also good, two breasts stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, mozzarella, pancetta and pine nuts. They were in a mushroom velouté, one of the French ‘mother sauces,’ made from fish stock and thickened with a little roux. The dish came with a very good, creamy saffron risotto and sautéed green beans, zucchini, mushrooms and carrot.
This is one of the most ambitious and impressive menus I’ve seen in town, and everything we had was very well executed. Prices, too, were good, with entrees mostly in the upper teens. You just don’t expect this kind of food in a Drury Inn, so come ready to be wowed.