ELEGANCE and excellence.
Adesso is now "On the Hill," as opposed to off of Thayer Street, where the marvelous restaurant was located until closing in 2005. It's been back for a year, in elegant new digs on the site of the former Acorn Social Club. When it first opened in 1986, the place gained prompt attention, vanguarding the local experience of delicate California cuisine.
It's an attractive place, with tall arched windows and warm yellow walls. You are even more impressed when you sit down: the two-tops are extra-wide for elbow room, the same length as the tables for four.
Thanks to an inordinate number of Brown students 1) having celebrity parents and 2) having excellent taste in where to take them when they visit, the original place had a long list of familiar names among their appreciative clientele (Steven Spielberg, Itzhak Perlman, Jane Fonda, and so on). All of the original line cooks came back, as well as most of the Italian dishes introduced by chef Carmino Micheletti. Large portions also returned, in the tradition of Italian restaurants around here, a welcome variation from the elegant mini-portions of the original California-ized menu.
The brick oven pizzas ($11-$17) are a sensible start. Have a simple one with fresh plum tomatoes and mozzarella or a concoction with everything from smoked salmon, shrimp, and asparagus under a saffron lobster sauce. But we decided to begin with their antipasto plate ($13), to see how interesting they got with the ingredients. Interesting indeed, we found, with tart marinated eggplant slices, roasted red peppers that were clearly kitchen-made, and button mushrooms marinated with pieces of onion. There also were a few slices of thickly cut salami and a couple of wedges of sharp provolone along with two bundles of prosciutto over the greens, and two crossed spears of asparagus on top like a blessing.
For a hot starter we had the sautéed mushrooms ($9). The scent of garlic wafted up strongly, appetizingly. They included sliced shiitakes with a small portobello cap on top, and there was a thick slice of Italian bread beneath to absorb all the delicious natural juices. Smart addition. Shrimp Biaggio ($13), prosciutto-wrapped shrimp stuffed with roasted peppers, sounded like another good choice.
Choosing a main dish was a head-scratcher, with several vying to best pique our appetites. Pan-roasted duck breast ($21) with a sauce of dried cherries and port? Or baked salmon ($23), with its clever smoked salmon and horseradish crust? The latter's sauce alone — "puréed basil, shellfish stock, pine nuts, white wine and cream" — almost won me over.
Johnnie decided first, picking the entrée-sized Caesar salad ($19) topped with grilled sushi-grade tuna. As is often the case at a top-notch restaurant, an incidental ingredient was the most impressive item: the tomato/thyme "salsa," simply diced tomatoes with just the right acidic tang. The tuna was described as rare, but the guest of honor was overcooked, with nary a hint of pink. The friendly manager, who had earlier made the rounds as host, was so appalled that a properly prepared serving soon arrived. You know you're in good hands when the restaurant is even more concerned with your meal than you are.