Traditional cuisine updated
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  November 2, 2009

Being a ristorante on Federal Hill is a lot like being just another olive tree in the grove. The challenge is to distinguish yourself so that people will keep coming back, will pick you. Since Zooma has been a fixture on at Atwells Avenue’s Italian restaurant row for nearly five years, it looks like they’re doing something right.

The first impression streetside is attractive. Flower boxes run the length of the gray-and-violet façade, a homey presence. In warm and sunny weather, a line of tables for two pops up alongside the flowers. The lettering of the name — the two Os in Zooma linked like a magic trick — is catchy, maybe going for hip. Inside, the prominent bar is slick, our attention pulled by large backlit orange Ls. That’s a good idea, seeing as the place likes to add “Bar-Ristorante,” in that order, after its name. (The extensive list of wines also grabs attention, with many offered by the glass, adding enoteca to its description.)

We wanted something quieter than the bar area, so we requested seating in back. Informality is an option here too, with stools along a counter overlooking the open kitchen. But it was a table for us, the tablecloth not topped with glass or paper, bistro style. The background music was from the Sinatra channel on Sirius, so all that was missing was can-dlelight.

Looking over the seasonally changing menu, we dabbed at olive oil poured into plates for us — no need to turn down butter and request some. Unusually, the Italian bread was better then the focaccia, which was spongy and too salty. Pleasantly, we didn’t have to spring for an $8 bottle of San Pellegrino, because their tap water was very well-filtered.

Most of the appetizers are $10 and $11 and run the traditional gamut: mussels in white wine sauce, calamari, both beef and tuna carpaccios. An unusual offering was lightly breaded and pan-fried risotto and montaggio cheese, marinara on the side — take that, mozzarella sticks. The saute di calamari sounded different enough for us to try, so we did and were mostly pleased. Both the rings and tentacles were as tender as I’ve ever had, accompanied by cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic and tossed with a mild, white balsamic vinegar. Pan-fried rather than deep-fried, they were greasier than desirable, though. For starters, there is also pasta e fagioli, the traditional pasta and white bean soup, and broc-coli and potato soup topped with smoked mozzarella (both $8); and choice of four salads.

Zooma’s executive chef Jeff Burgess is especially proud of their primi piatti, 19 pasta courses, more than twice the number of the entrées on the menu. Fifteen are kitchen-made. There are four kinds of ravioli alone, from chevre-filled in brown butter, to a lobster and mascarpone filling with a vermouth-finished sauce. We had the day’s pasta spe-cial, whole-wheat tagliatelle with a crimini mushroom, cherry tomato, and artichoke heart sauté ($14). I chose it because of the whole-wheat challenge — such pasta attempts can be more healthful than tasty, but this was quite good, not at all grainy.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Seasonal fare(well), Post 390, Review: Cafe Longo, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Foods,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MEN AT WORK  |  April 16, 2014
    The Pulitzer Prize Board, which likes to honor theatrical gems of Americana, may have been remiss in not nominating David Rabe’s 1984 ' Hurlyburly .'
  •   SEARCHING FOR CLUES  |  April 09, 2014
    A "girl detective" makes her  world premiere.
  •   ROSE-COLORED MEMORIES  |  April 09, 2014
    Incessant media accounts of horrific events can prompt compassion fatigue.
  •   MENTAL SHRAPNEL  |  April 02, 2014
    Brave or foolhardy? The Wilbury Theatre Group is presenting Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted , a 1995 play that at the time was decried as juvenile, taken to the woodshed by critics, and flayed to shreds.
  •   A ROWDY ROMP  |  March 26, 2014
    In his time, Georges Feydeau was to theater what McDonald’s is to cuisine — cheap, easy to consume, and wildly popular.

 See all articles by: BILL RODRIGUEZ