DINING OUT: Homemade Pasta, a Menu Headliner

New York Times

By Alice Gabriel
The best thing on the menu at Di Nardo’s Ristorante, a versatile Italian restaurant in the center of Scotts Corners here, is the homemade spaghetti. When the waiter says “spaghetti,” his voice rises on the second syllable and lingers there a moment, so how can you resist? The lovely long noodles, served with fresh tomatoes and basil, are not the only pasta on the menu marked “fatta in casa”; semolina is also put to splendid use in ravioli, fusilli and tortellini.

Pound Ridge is a place that eschews show, and Di Nardo’s, enormously popular with local residents, fits right in. It’s one of the few games in town, but judging from the number of cars with Connecticut plates that could as easily be parked at a restaurant in nearby New Canaan, it isn’t popular simply by default. Indeed, along with some fairly pedestrian fare, Di Nardo’s offers dishes that bring people back: silky ravioli filled with fava beans and pecorino cheese; farfalle mingled with cauliflower, pine nuts, lemon zest and cream; and a beautiful big veal chop cloaked with shiitake mushrooms.

The restaurant’s plain-Jane facade is barely distinguishable from that of the dry cleaner’s or the nail salon on the same block. A handful of sidewalk tables shaded by market umbrellas and pin oaks mark the spot. A side door serves somewhat confusingly as the main entrance, while the front door caters to a brisk takeout business.

The airy front parlor, where families with small children on silver-colored pedestals eat pizza, blends Ikea modern and Suessian whimsy; there are blond wood veneers, turquoise paint, red table tops, wire chairs and a wonderful blown-glass chandelier that looks like a rare sea creature pulled from the deep. In two rear formal dining rooms, waiters in dinner jackets navigate serenely among white-clothed tables. A sizable list of specials changes weekly.

Warm, yeasty focaccia arrives at the table early on; one night it came with a small plate of peppery salami and pecorino cheese. To start, I liked the earthy grilled portobello mushroom and baby greens laced with good olive oil, or the thin leaves of beef carpaccio tucked under arugula and shaved Parmesan. Meat tortellini bathed in a light broth were delicious, and a lightly dressed salad of arugula, endive and radicchio was refreshing. Fried to a deep brown, salty zucchini sticks were a fun alternative to French fries.

…Pastas are the restaurant’s strong suit. Fusilli, sweet shrimp and asparagus were bound with a pleasant, light tomato cream sauce. Linguine al frutti di mare, made with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari, was a good version of the classic. Penne baked with tomatoes, ricotta and mozzarella, and cannelloni filled with spinach and chicken were simple, direct and satisfying. Huge bland meatballs served over commercial spaghetti were an exception; they were left largely untouched by the meatball lovers in my family.

Pizzas can be very good if allowed to stay in the oven long enough and not oversauced. Two satisfying toppings were asparagus and walnuts, and broccoli rabe and garlic.

… Chicken livers sauteed with mushrooms and finished with Marsala were gray at the center…

Mussels in marinara flecked with oregano lacked the sparkle of top-quality shellfish. Sauteed chicken in a brown sauce perfumed with rosemary was flavorful…

The wine list is heavily weighted toward Italian wines, most of them red and expensive. Among whites, I liked Ste. Michelle’s crisp 2002 sauvignon blanc from Horse Heaven Vineyard ($29) and the lemon-scented 2001 Terre di Tufi from Teruzzi & Puthod ($43). Wines by the glass are identified only by varietal and could be upgraded. For dessert, try the crumbly ricotta cheesecake, the mandarin sorbet or the tiramisu served charmingly in a little glass bowl. Excellent espresso and cappuccino are brewed at the bar.

Atmosphere — A spiffy pizza parlor in front and more sedate dining rooms in back. (Pizza is served only in the front, where the full menu is also available.) In fine weather, diners can eat outdoors at tables bordered by wrought iron railings and boxes of begonias.
Service — Friendly and efficient.
Recommended dishes — Grilled portobello mushroom, beef carpaccio, tortellini in broth, tricolore salad, fried zucchini, pizza with broccoli rabe, pizza with asparagus and walnuts, cheese ravioli, spinach ravioli, fava bean ravioli (special), homemade spaghetti, fusilli with shrimp, baked penne, linguine with seafood, grilled veal chop.

Review published: June 13, 2004

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