Trattoria Simpatico

An inviting refuge from the cold
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 23, 2006

Although Trattoria Simpatico is an easy enough place to think of when spring is in bloom and the street-side outdoor area is lively with conversation, it offers a winter respite as well. The popular Jamestown restaurant has more tables outside than inside, even when it’s cold, thanks to a couple of enclosed tents. Each have not only plenty of industrial-strength propane heaters, but also a full bar to keep us warm.

We were seated in the main bar room, which is optimistically called the Garden Room, next to a heater that supplied a fireplace-worth of toastiness against the frost. The bountiful blossoms we were invited to imagine on the other side of the window were the match of any actual garden. The unobtrusive musical styling of Dave Manuel on keyboards and vocals was a pleasant background on the Thursday evening we attended.

A good start was an immediately delivered batard of hot French bread to tear apart and scour a bread plate clean of olive oil. The wine list offers nearly 20 choices by the glass, going beyond the usual Shiraz and Chardonnays to a Sangiovese and an Orvieto. The appetizers include a couple of especially hearty starters. The “pumpkin encrusted” pork tenderloin ($9.95) is served with an apple and fig chutney and whipped potatoes, and the horseradish-oil-anointed braised short rib ($10.95) is accompanied by pureed celeriac and Swiss chard.

We were all in a seafood mood and started with roasted littlenecks ($9.95), a half-dozen in-shell, surrounded by roasted red peppers and scallions, in a corn cream sauce and lots of diced pancetta. Not as hefty as pork or beef, but more substantial than naked clams. Our companions wanted to check out the calamari ($9.95). It was described as crisp and tossed with spicy tomato vinaigrette and red pepper remoulade. Proprietor Phyllis Bedard later mentioned that this is one of their most popular items, with people traveling just for it. The dressing was tasty, but, of course, eliminated the announced crispness, and this evening the squid rings were tough. A good portion was left when the table was cleared.

Above-par house salads were served before two of our main dishes, with julienned carrots and cubes of cucumber adding texture to the mesclun, and the raspberry vinaigrette bright, yet not too tart.

Entrée prices are on the high side, with only one of the 10 non-pasta main dishes in the teens and four at $30 or more. That may sound like a disadvantage, no matter how tall their popular entrées are architecturally stacked, but get this: on every Tuesday through winter, every entrée is $14.95, including the regularly priced $35.95 veal chop. Bedard says this deal, along with the bistro menu, are meant as thanks to their local regulars. Don’t wear socks with your Weejuns and you can pass for an island local too.

Well, this was a Thursday, so three of us chose from the “Café Selections” of that lower-priced bistro menu, which is not available Saturday evenings. The fish and chips ($13.95) were pronounced very good by Rob, a fellow restaurant reviewer, its batter not overly thick, and the French fries thin. Jan’s meatloaf ($13.95) was all-beef, dense but flavorful, especially with its rich brown gravy. I was in a nostalgic mood, so I ordered what was billed as macaroni and cheese ($9.95). What came out was not elbows and cheddar sauce, but rather ziti in a scrumptious four-cheese blend. The Tuscan sausage I ordered from another pasta dish option was courteously sliced, herbed, and garlicked. Loved it.

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