Stepping into d.carlo trattoria from a nondescript strip mall next to a 7-Eleven is almost like being Dorothy venturing into the Land of Oz.
d. carlo trattoria | 970 Douglas Pike, Smithfield | Mon-Fri, 11:30 am-2:30 pm; Mon-Thurs, 5-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-10:30 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.349.4979
Warm colors in the walls, polished wood accents, white linens, and four dining areas that are ingeniously divided to provide privacy from one another — all combined to create an oasis of calm before we’d even found our table. Our waiter, Larry, was the other relaxing factor around this meal: someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but who genuinely enjoys interacting with people.
The two-year-old restaurant is owned by Denis Thibeault and Carlo Slaughter (thus its name), and its executive chef is Chris Kattawar, who’s previously cooked at Mill’s Tavern, Café Romanzo, and Table 28. His own imaginative touches take him beyond the Italian cuisine upon which the menu is based. The pork tenderloin, for example, is served with potato salad, fried okra, and peach jam. A special of that same dish during the evening when we visited was accompanied by a pulled pork and sweet potato hash. Southern/Italian, anyone?
We started with two appetizers, one a special soup and the other a regular menu item. The soup was tomato-basil ($5.95) and it was thick with the former and very strong on the basil from the latter. It was memorably delicious.
Bill, after appreciating the description of fried calamari as “vecchia scuola” (“old school”), considering the short-rib ravioli with truffle sauce, and savoring the thought of PEI mussels steamed with shallots and fresh oregano, decided on something unusual: fried risotto balls ($8.95). These four were arranged in a pyramid on a pool of marinara, and the creamy risotto was enhanced with prosciutto and peas. Rolled in a very light crumb coating, the balls held together just fine, and they were as tasty as they were filling.
D. carlo offers several salads, including a wedge of iceberg with Gorgonzola dressing, and a watercress, prosciutto, and watermelon salad with a Madeira vinaigrette. There are also four grilled pizzas: d. carlo magherita; portobello and spinach; grilled chicken with pesto; and fried eggplant with mozzarella and ricotta — each a meal in itself.
Despite the pizzas’ allure, we turned to the pastas and the entrées. The pastas include two veggie options — fettucine caprese and four-cheese ravioli — three dishes with chicken, three with seafood, and one with sirloin tips.
The baked gnocchi with grilled chicken ($13.95) called my name, and Larry said that the reggiano cream sauce was one of his favorites (another is the scallops with wild mushroom risotto). The gnocchi were light, the three slices of grilled chicken quite tender, and the sauce was, indeed, creamy, though I might have wanted more of the promised leeks and wild mushrooms, which were, in this case, criminis.
The entrées at d. carlo include the aforementioned pork tenderloin; grilled lamb loin chops (with fig and pearl onion chutney); grilled veal tenders (with cherry relish); grilled sirloin with goat cheese; and four fish dishes: pan-seared Atlantic salmon; grilled whole trout; potato-encrusted mahi mahi; and pan-seared escolar ($19.95). The last one caught Bill’s eye, partly because of the crabmeat/ chive-jasmine rice and the sautéed pea tendrils that accompanied the fish. He loved the rice, the tendrils, and the fish steak as well, with its interesting crispy brown layer on both bottom and top.
If we’d known about the controversy over this particular fish (its oils are indigestible and make some diners ill; some American experts seem still wary of it), I think Bill would have chosen something different. He did no¬tice some after-effects, and I’d personally wait for further evidence on this one, and I’d strongly advise d.carlo to wait, too.
D. carlo has made some good wine selections, with many available by the glass. We chose an Avalon cabernet sauvignon ($6.25) and a Spasso pinot grigio ($6.50), and we were very pleased, especially with the cabernet. The wines come primarily from Italy, New Zealand, and California, all Italian-style, in keeping with the cuisine.
The desserts do the same, except for the blueberry bread pudding, so very New England. But the cheesecake with Grand Marnier, the fresh strawberries tossed in limoncello with fresh basil, and even the molten lava cake are Italiano for sure. D. carlo is proud of its own tiramisu and crème brûlée, though the other desserts come from vendors. We settled on the chocolate ganache cake ($6.50) and substituted vanilla ice cream for the chocolate fudge flavor described on the menu.
We came away from d.carlo refreshed from the ambience and cheered by our meal and Larry’s jokes.
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