A loaf of bread, a glass of wine
Yes, there seem to be more Italian restaurants on Federal Hill than pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. But no, you can’t just pick one arbitrarily and be assured of an exceptional time. Envy anyone, though, who steps into Pane e Vino because they like the name and steps out an hour or two later wearing a satisfied smile.
Pane e Vino | 365 Atwells Ave, Providence | Mon-Thurs, 5-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11 pm; Sun, 4-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.223.2230
The place is one of the best on the Hill, definitive with traditional dishes and inventive with an occasional surprise. Johnnie vividly recalled a mouthwatering appetizer from a prior visit — scamorza alla griglia (wood-grilled smoked cheese topped with tomato sauce) — and forgot about her exquisite main course special, a lobster-filled pastry in a delectable champagne cream sauce. Delight trumped luxury.
You can reserve a table with one of three distinct ambiances. To the left of the entrance are tables with views of the street, for people watching. The bar with a half-dozen or so seats and a row of tables across from it offers a more convivial, if louder, atmosphere.
In the back, where we sat this time, the setting is more intimate, with a mural of the Bay of Naples and golden yellow walls that could put you in mind of Tuscan hills at sunset. The intimacy is enhanced by the restaurant being no wider than a couple of bowling alleys, with thick columns down the center of the bar section, so that you have to negotiate who passes through first by eye contact with the waitstaff.
The owner of the restaurant, Joe Dequattro, was one of the original partners of Caffé Itri, a Cranston mainstay, and is now connected with Zooma, on the Hill. He had been a wine consultant with Martinetti’s, so the choices here are on his own authority, with selections from various regions of Italy. Kevin DiLibero, who in Newport was sous chef at Castle Hill and executive chef at 22 Bowen’s, helped open Pane e Vino in 2002 and now heads its kitchen.
On this visit we wanted to try their trattoria menu, which is available Monday through Friday from 5 to7 pm and all day Sunday. For $19.95, you choose from two salads or a bruschetta for an antipasto, from five entrées or pastas, and end things with a house dessert and coffee or tea.
We had both salads, and they signaled that we were in the hands of a kitchen determined to do things right. The insalata di casa had two triangles of ricotta salata, a compressed sheep’s milk cheese, enough to have a piece with every bite of the mixed greens. Sweet onions were another nice touch. The insalata di cesare was prepared properly, with egg in the dressing, an anchovy draped over the bite-size Romaine leaves, and plenty of wide shavings of Grana Padano cheese, a kind of Parmesan.
The portions were small, lunch-size, but enough for one. We also shared the calamari we had loved here before. Sautéed rather than fried, the calamari in padella ($9) is remarkably tender, small tentacles and all, and quite flavorful — though sans the an¬nounced artichoke hearts.
For the main course, I was in a mood for red sauce. The eggplant baked with penne sounded appealing, but the penne con ragu con carne got my complete attention. The dense San Marzano tomato sauce covered not only a meatball and sausage, but also a very large piece of braciola, an olive oil-fried roll of beef. A large mound of ricotta was atop the pasta, like whipped cream on a sundae. I was content.
Johnnie had the petto di pollo alla picatta, the pan-seared chicken breast topped with capers, and the lemon and white wine sauce well balanced. Alongside skin-on mashed potatoes was an unusual but enjoyable combination of carrots and cabbage.
Our birthday guest, Tarra, was going to get gnocchi del cardinale from the trattoria menu because she likes pink sauce, but she instead ordered a gnocchi special of the day ($22), since it contains wild mushrooms instead of meat. The shiitake, Portobello, and oyster mushrooms made for quite an earthy cream sauce.
The tiramisu that came with our prix fixe dinners was fine, rich with mascarpone and drizzled with a coffee liqueur. But our waiter recommended their bread pudding ($7) and we were very glad we also shared that. The rectangle of coarse bread cubes was broiled to produce a wonderful textural contrast of crunch and sweet softness.
If Pane e Vino served only bread and wine, one suspects, it would still make the experience exceptional.
On the Web
Pane e Vino: www.panevino.net
Email the author
Bill Rodriguez: firstname.lastname@example.org
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