By Meredith Munk Special to The Herald
I don’t want to gush, but I have to. Three of us went to Calabria Ristorante Italiano for dinner the other night and the expressions of culinary rapture were continuous throughout the meal. From our appetizer to our dessert, the food was fabulous.
I’ve passed Calabria for a few years, aware of its existence, but not much more. It’s out of the way, in a strip mall surrounded by residential housing, with an odd orientation to the street. But seeking it out is worth the effort.
When you walk in, the aroma is tantalizing. It’s intimate and cozy, with seating for about 50 spread in a horseshoe around the kitchen. It’s also surprisingly elegant with framed art, long drapes and a charming line of wine corks set end to end into the wall just below the window sills.
This little neighborhood restaurant has a large wine list. We tried the house merlot and rose ($7.50), both were nice. Fresh, thinly sliced sourdough French bread and garlic infused olive oil went well with the wine.
We ordered the antipasto rustica appetizer ($10.95), sliced Italian meats, cheeses, giant green olives and marinated red peppers and artichokes. It was savory, salty and sweet. The perfect bite was a piece of the sourdough with a slice of capicola, a marinated red pepper and a bit of the smoky cheese.
Their salad menu includes three meal-sized options, one with meats, vegetables and cheese ($10.95), a spinach salad ($10.95) and a chicken Caesar ($12.95). We tried the smaller dinner salads, a Caesar and a house salad ($3.95). Both salads were generous portions and delicious. The Caesar salad was dressed with garlicky croutons and a particularly tangy and flavorful version of Caesar dressing. Mixed greens with fresh mushrooms and tomatoes made up the house salad with the usual dressing choices.
The appealing menu includes four 10-inch pizzas with varieties of meats, cheeses and vegetables ($11.50 to $13.95), about a dozen pastas and chicken, meat and fish choices.
We ordered two pastas. The first was a traditional spaghetti alla puttanesca ($13.95), with capers, anchovies, olives and spaghetti in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. While one of the most “plain” of the pasta choices, it was anything but plain in flavor. The second was penne cariettiera ($15.95), with Italian ham, peas and mushrooms in aurora sauce, a light and creamy tomato garlic sauce. It was a favorite at our table and popular here, according to our server.
The third dish we tried was vitello (veal) saltimbocca ($19.95). Several pieces of thinly sliced melt-in-your-mouth veal were layered with sage and prosciutto and sauteed in butter, olive oil and white wine. It was delicate and perfectly cooked. Zucchini, carrots and roasted potatoes completed the plate.
Since we took home our leftover pasta, it was easy to say yes to taking a peek at the dessert menu. Several desserts including chocolate torte, cannoli and tiramisu sounded tempting, but we decided to share the special dessert, tartuffo, and the spumoni ice cream. The tartuffo was a scoop of ice cream with a liquid chocolate center and a slightly crunchy exterior, sitting in a shallow pool of Kahlua. It was as good as it sounds.
Even the spumoni was not a simple scoop of ice cream. It was three scoops of chocolate, vanilla and pistachio ice cream with bits of cherry, a wonderful sample of the Italian treat. Two desserts, three spoons and three happy diners.
The meal and atmosphere were enjoyable and the service was welcoming and friendly. We all agreed that it was an unexpected treasure and berated ourselves for not trying it sooner.
Calabria Ristorante Italiano
3922 148th St. SE, Suite 111, Mill Creek; 425-379-7010;
Specialty: Authentic Italian.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Vegetarian options: Yes.