MADE BY MAMA Lasagna at Trattoria Longo.
Preparing most Italian dishes doesn't require the complexity of organic chemistry. Fresh ingredients, a good recipe, well-timed cooking, and ecco! Benissimo!
That said, dining in an Italian restaurant where every dish on your table is done just right will make you want to run out and find the nearest saint's day parade to march in to show your appreciation.
My latest such marching orders were inspired by Trattoria Longo in Westerly. Cafe Longo closed on Federal Hill in Providence last year, where Italian restaurants have accumulated like red pepper flakes on rigatoni. Many in Westerly have been raised on pasta and red "gravy," so high standards are set. It's a family affair here, with Jerry Longo's mother and culinary perfectionist Liliana in charge in the kitchen.
When we walked in, My Cousin Vinny was looping on a TV and the Chairman of the Board was having it his way on the sound system. We took a window seat under a black-and-white portrait of a bow-tied Sinatra looking over the place. The actual Frank wouldn't have been alone here. In recent months, celebrities Lorraine Bracco and Tony Sirico from The Sopranos and John Ratzenberger from Cheers have been sighted next to a beaming Jerry.
Some of the specials were especially interesting. The scungilli appetizer and eggplant rollatini (both $10) weren't on the regular menu because not everyone likes snail salad as much as I do and there is a more popular eggplant appetizer regularly listed. The seafood fra diavolo is a pricey $36, assurance that the guests of honor with the fettuccine will be plentiful.
It's a good sign if a menu doesn't go on for pages and pages: if the restaurant is going to rely on fresh rather than frozen ingredients and not go broke throwing out what isn't sold, they'd better restrain themselves. And after all, how much can you eat from each category? That said, since there were four of us, we chose two appetizers to share. In addition to the three specials, there were only four appetizers on the regular menu. The antipasto ($8.50) was too unadventurous and we passed on the the signature meatball ($6.50) we saw going by aside a salad, since I was the only raging carnivore there. So we opted for the fried calamari ($7) and the other signature starter, "Eggplant On the Hill" ($8.50).
The squid preparation promised "balsamic reduction," and I was hoping it would be more than a mere drizzle. This version was marvelous, the vinegar enriching a sweet pepper and tomato sauce that the pieces were tossed in. I should have asked for more of the shredded fresh basil that garnished the top, such a bright complement to the taste.
The other appetizer consisted of two eggplant sandwiches: on a bed of arugula, breaded and fried discs enclosed two thick slices of tomato and mozzarella so delicate it must have been freshly made. The temperature and texture contrast of the eggplant exemplified the solemn virtue of made-to-order.