Monday, August 26, 2013

A Relaxed Sunday Breakfast

32 West Main Street
Westminster, MD 21157
I used to enjoy lunch at Rafael's quite regularly when my employment was in Westminster. The sandwiches were great but since retiring I admit I've unintentionally dropped this fine restaurant from my those I haunt for lunch with friends.
Debbie and I have traditionally only had breakfast on Sunday mornings at home but lately I've struggled with poaching the eggs just so and the cats have become begging pests so we decided to try going out to Westminster and let someone else fret over the Hollandaise sauce. Well forgedabout the likes of Denny's and Bob Evan's, where they don't employ cooks anymore, just microwave masters. McDonald's has a fine Egg McMuffin if that's your sort of thing - they are currently rebuilding a new store on their old site to handle the volume. Chic fil A has good sausage gravy on biscuits on weekdays but Sunday is verboten for them. Harry's  too is now closed on Sunday. Johansson's advertises a "brunch" but doesn't open to 10 AM and a brunch is more than we want.
We noticed some commotion down the block from Johansson's at Rafael's and sure enough they serve a full, regular breakfast menu on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 AM to 1 PM. Parking nearby is easy and we were immediately shown to a nice table in their rustic dining room. Coffee was quickly served and it's the real stuff - not some over roasted Starbucks confection but a full flavored breakfast blend.
The menu is quite complete with many egg specialties, pancakes and French toast. Meat choices include bacon, sausages, a kabob of bacon and sausage in a maple sauce glaze and, praise the lord, scrapple. Debbie loves French Toast but never prepares it for herself at home. I admit to loving the lush life on Sunday mornings and am addicted to Eggs Benedict any chance I can order them. Rafael's specializes in four Eggs Benedict preparations but I am quite pleased with their traditional approach which includes a yummy Hollandaise sauce, plenty of Canadian bacon, perfectly poached eggs and some grilled red skin potatoes on the side.

It appears that breakfast at Rafael's is no local secret as they are doing a good turn of business when we go there. Service is punctual. No one objects if you read the Sunday papers over your meal.
I heartily recommend you try Rafael's for breakfast, lunch and dinner but the weekend breakfast has become a very welcome, relaxing way to start the day for us and I can't imagine anyone being disappointed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Restaurant Weeks Best & Worst

Restaurant Week Highs and Lows

My friends and I routinely take advantage of the reduced prices offered during "Restaurant Week" in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Carroll. This year we tried a real mix of cuisine with real mixed results.

We started with Kali's Court in the Baltimore's hot to trot Harbor East neighborhood. I'd dined there before and found our experience to be superlative to that first visit. The host is genuinely glad to receive you and there really isn't a bad table on either floor of the enormous restaurant, although when weather permits I expect those few tables in the courtyard or on the balcony are most desirable.

We were pleasantly surprised by the enormity and quality of our Prince Edward Island Mussels in a tomato, scallion and honey broth. There are PEI mussels and then there are these huge, choice PEI selections at Kali's Court. The grilled calamari preparation is wonderful but a turn off to some as the calamari is a bit chewier grilled than when in the usual fried style. I like the tentacles, others want only the round, sliced body parts.Some rolls to sop up the broth and this appetizer would suffice as a meal for many diners.

The Restaurant specializes in seafood but Debbie and I chose the Braised Lamb Shank. It was cooked to tender perfection over a bed of mashed potatoes. A friend chose the whole Bronzini, a house favorite. He was a bit taken the presence of the head of the fish on the platter but more impressed with the tender, non-fishy taste.

This is one of those restaurants that get it. They put their best foot forward during Restaurant Week and are rewarded with return customers every week throughout the year.

 Next up was the famously expensive Milton Inn in Sparks. This is normally a place for Hunt Valley executives to dine with their corporate charge cards in hand. They supposedly have one of those top rated chefs that restaurants fight for. It is quite a nice historic atmosphere - the Inn at one time serving as a private school that had John Wilkes Booth as an early pupil. Atmosphere abounds.
Alas we ordered the PEI Mussels as an appetizer once again. They were in a rich creamy broth but the size of the mussel was much smaller, and chewier than what Kali's Court had spoiled us with. The menu was very limited, as if the expected most customers to order from the pricier regular menu. Two of us had a pasta dish of rigatoni with large shrimp, very large crab lumps from something other than a Chesapeake Blue Crab and more of the dinky mussels. Once we got past the delicious seafood atop the pasta the exclamations came to a curt halt. The pasta below had been suffocated with a cheesy sauce which reminded me of Cheeze Whiz, straight from the jar. The temperature in the room rose at least 10 uncomfortable degrees while we dined there. The salvation of the meal was a crème brule and a fresh lime sorbet offered for desert.
No one grumbled about the dinner in the car on the way home but within a few days we began to compare notes and the truth outed itself; the Milton Inn is highly overrated and not serious about Restaurant Week. We suspected the offerings were inferior to what is regularly offered or they are magicians to pull off the prices and popularity of the place.
Our final choice was one that I visited during the last Carroll Restaurant week. Having reviewed the special menus offered by Carroll restaurants we felt once again that local diners are subjected to second rate fare at most Carroll restaurants and that it seems as if some restaurateurs were forced to participate in the event.
Leave it to Dante Liberatore to not disappoint during restaurant week. The menu choices are numerous and delicious. The calamari appetizers are almost to large and are prepared perfectly, fried or grilled.. Two of us chose the chicken parmigiana and while both were pleased with the dish they the quantity was so large that they took 1/2 their meals home. My friend and I had the Shrimp Fra Diavalo which had at least 7 huge shrimp atop the perfectly prepared linguine with a spicy red sauce. This is a house specialty and I recommend it to all. We also had a bottle of the Amarone blend red wine, whose name I have since forgotten but is buried on this blog in last years review. The desert choices are limited and most of us had the coconut cake which we all found to have ample coconut but very dry sheet cake.
Dante is a great host as he makes every guest feel special. We really should dine there more often throughout the year. Liberatore's $26.99 restaurant week price was the lowest of all the restaurants we visited. Surely there are some other good restaurants in Carroll County but judging by their Restaurant Week menus they aren't worth the try.
Next up: Great Sunday Breakfast at Rafael's in Westminster.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Down Home Cookin’ Done Well

The Buttersburg Inn
9 N. Main St.
Union Bridge, MD 21791
Phone: 410-775-9939

The Buttersburg is one of those places that Debbie and I have been to many times over the years but too often forget to visit more regularly, perhaps because it specializes in comfort foods that Debbie is quite accomplished at in making for our at-home dinners.

Sometime you just need a night out though and the Buttersburg is a local gem, I only wish we had a similar restaurant in Finksburg. The folks that live in Union Bridge and nearby New Windsor are lucky to have the daily convenience of this restaurant which is locally owned and operated hands-on by hosts Frank Tunzi and Jim Rowe .

No matter how homey some franchise restaurants try to make their image they can’t compete with places like the Buttersburg. In fact, I swear some of the “down-home cookin” style franchised restaurants I have eaten in don’t have a stove in their kitchen. These cookie-cutter places put up a huge American Flag, use Early American - looking furnishings, hang quaint local pictures on the walls and then prepare their pre-pared foods in a battery of microwave ovens.

We were met at the door by Jim and he ushered us to a table. Our server quickly gave us menus and explained the night’s special. Those specials are pretty special at this restaurant as I will explain momentarily.

One thing that makes this place special for us is that they allow you to bring your own bottle of wine. I don’t think a lot of diners at the Buttersburg do the BYOB thing but it is great for those of us winos who enjoy wine with almost every meal – and here you can do it without the inflated cost of “restaurant priced wine” which is often double or triple the retail cost at a wine merchant.
Neither of my parents thought much of wine except when they would go to Maria’s 300 in Little Italy where they would order a very inexpensive bottle of the house made, chianti-like, red wine. I have often thought of my Irish Grandfather as a teetotaler but he did insist on a very small glass of Mogen David or Manischewitz fruit wine with his meal (the old ads proclaimed, “Man-O-Manischewitz!”). On seeing that we brought our own wine, our waitress immediately offered us a wine opener and glasses (Carroll County Wine Festival glasses!)
Me, I can always find a wine to compliment a pizza, hamburgers or even hot dogs.

I have to admit that I had fried chicken on my brain when I announced to Debbie that she was going to have a night off from the galley; however, one of the night’s special was soft crabs. Ok, so I talked Debbie into getting the Fried Chicken so I could get my favoritest food in the world (I knew I’d get at least a chicken wing off her plate). But first I had to try a cup of the home-made chicken corn soup. It was terrific with huge hunks of chicken, loads of corn and carrots in a great broth. My entrée came with two sides but I only cared for one. Without my suggesting it, the waitress offered me a side-salad. That was certainly unnecessary but appreciated.

My soft crab platter came out hot with two whale sized softies that were lightly battered, fried to perfection and accompanied by a large side of fresh, kitchen-cut fried potatoes.  A little mustard on my crabs and I was off to Maryland Seafood Heaven.

Debbie’s fried chicken was done to perfection. In a world of franchise restaurant and grocery store prepared fried chicken, what stands out as the real deal is what you will find in Union Bridge.

Now about those specials. Until last evening I did not know the Buttersburg Inn had regular “special” days. Where else in this or any neighboring County are you going to find Fried Rabbit (every 4th weekend), Liver & Onions night (Tuesdays), Prime Rib (every weekend), Stuffed Pork Chops (Friday nights) and on every third weekend of the month a real treat for  culinary adventurous types, Hog Maws. Yep, you heard it here first. I hope that last special doesn’t create a rush on the Inn from all you stuffed Hog Maw lovers.

By the way, the standard of standards for comfort food is at The Buttersburg  too, open faced hot roast beef sandwiches with fries, all smothered in gravy. While I don’t know if it is available every weekend I do know they have some weekend nights when they cook up a mess of turkeys and have a real traditional meal complete with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

As if the entrees aren’t  good enough, The Buttersburg is famous for the cakes and pies they bake right there. I really didn’t have room for desert and seldom do but Debbie always leaves room for a chocolate sundae. At the Inn, her sundae was laced with fresh brownie. The Hummingbird Cake was recommended and the Three Fruit Rhubarb Pie sounded awful good; maybe I’ll give one of them a go next time we are out that way. All of the fresh baked desserts are listed on a chalk board at the back of the dining room.

The Buttersburg Inn captures the essence of Carroll County. It is an unpretentious setting for good food. They don’t make restaurants like this anymore, they just make franchise joints that try to capture their folksy style with “chefs” who don’t know how to cook an egg much less stuff a pork chop that didn’t come off the food service truck that way.  

Be sure to tell Frank and Jim that the Hungry Man sent you.




Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Whole Lotta Smokin’ Going On

 Famous Dave’s Barbecue
10500 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 When the urge for spare ribs hits me I usually head off to Annapolis to visit the Red, Hot & Blue (RH&B) off Rt. 50. It’s worth the drive and I have even blazed my was through a blizzard with a buddy to pick up full racks of their ribs to bring home for a party – a trip that ended up taking five hours instead of the usual two.
The irrepressible urge hit last week and I called up some fellow barbecue lovin’ friends to make the trip but my friend insisted that we save the long drive and go to one of their favorites, Famous Dave’s, just a short hop down I 795 to Owings Mills. I caved in and off we went on a very wet evening, hoping the line to get in wouldn’t be too long - for apparently I am the last barbecue lover in Maryland to know about Famous Dave’s.
This is a franchise restaurant that certainly doesn’t need a review to perk up business. The joint really is famous and they do what they do very well – for lots of diners who don’t mind getting their fingers greasy. One of the reasons I have gone to RH&B in Annapolis is because they offer spareribs without the sloppy sauce that so many people crave. I like my ribs naked and by golly Dave’s offers them that way along with the traditional sauce glazed version.
The dining area is huge with many coveted booths and it is not as noisy as one would expect because everyone is concentrating on their dinners. Chicken wing and spareribs are piled high on almost every table. 'Que eaters of every sort are busy munching down on many menu choices (see web site for menu).
I insisted we order an appetizer to share and went for the Not’cho Ordinary Nachos Grande, one that was new to my friends and quite well received. Instead of the messy plate of nachos that become soggy after 5 minutes, this serving is quite different and absolutely fabulous – it really is a meal in itself with nacho chips layered with beans, chili, jalapenos and –here’s a twist- chopped pork with a squirt of sour cream on top. There was almost a fight over it and the huge serving completely disappeared.
Unlike RH&B, the food comes out very quickly at Dave’s. I should mention here that they have a big selection of beers and cocktails at Dave’s and the beer is plenty cold. There’s just something about ribs and beer.

Two of our group ordered the Georgia Pulled Pork Platter which includes two sides from a large selection of choices. The sandwich is so large that Debbie took half of hers home. The pork is tender and not soggy with sauce. Another chose the True Bleu Cheeseburger which arrived with a very large portion of bleu cheese atop a huge burger with lettuce, tomato and red onions. It is quite a monument of burger that won’t leave anyone hungry.

Yes, I got my naked rack of baby back ribs and they were terrific. The seasoning is not the same as the dry rub at RH&B but they are very meaty and tasty. Did you know that the reason they are called "baby" ribs is because they come off a smaller, young hog that might weigh as much as 300 pounds, rather that an older, larger and most likely tougher hog weighing better than 500 pounds?

Amazingly, one of the group wanted dessert  because I think they really only came along to get some of the bread pudding, which I have to admit looked pretty exceptional.  With a little help from a friend the huge serving disappeared silently and quickly.

Dave’s is not a place for the calorie conscious but for those who appreciate all sorts of barbecue joint food I assure you that you won’t be disappointed in taking the short drive to Owings Mills for some good eats.
The really good news about Dave’s is that the entire menu can be ordered to-go in case you just want to chow down at home and avoid any of the possible wait to get in the joint. The food will still be plenty hot when you get home with such a short drive, even in a blizzard.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The Essence of Restaurant Week

6300 Georgetown Boulevard
Eldersburg, MD 21784

I have hesitated to dive into Restaurant Week Carroll County because I have the impression that many of the restaurants participating seem to have been forced into doing so – their special menu’s offer no insight into what the restaurants have to offer on a regular basis; they offer reduced portion sizes; and generally there is little incentive beyond the $25.12 dinner price to entice me to stay local. Frankly, a 4 ounce serving of salmon or a miniature filet mignon is typical of many Restaurant Week menus and neither are much of a statement about a kitchen’s capabilities other than to say how uninventive they are.  

One Westminster eatery offers two entrees for the $25.00 dinner price as if to say we can’t cook anything well but we can give you a lot of it. This is an example of Carroll County appealing to the bottom of the culinary barrel and those who revel in it. This category of diners are in a class of their own as they continue to mourn the passing of the cattle trough of food they could munch through at Cactus Willies. Fine dining establishments in Carroll have a history - of failure.

Such is not a fair indictment of all of the restaurants in Carroll County because there are a few who do understand what Restaurant Week is all about beyond filling their dining rooms in an off month. Liberatore’s in Eldersburg is a perfect example of a restaurant that gets it – they could teach a lot of the restaurants in Baltimore quite a bit about how to do things right.
Although  we have lived in Carroll for almost 40 years now we’ve never dined at this Liberatore’s and the lunchtime buffet experience I had at their Westminster  location wasn’t a fair example of what the kitchen is capable of. Shame on us because we’ve been missing out on some very well prepared Italian dishes only 15 minutes from Finksburg. I was lured to Liberatore’s by the Carroll County Times article announcing Restaurant week here. Dante Liberatore’s comments in that article and some snapshots of the dishes from the regular menu convinced me that we had to consider this local restaurant for a spin. Visiting the restaurant’s web site and looking over the week’s special menu closed the deal – the menu offered no fewer than five appetizer choices and ten entrees, plus desserts. The menu has a listing of many suggested affordable wines by the glass.  

Liberatore’s is a family run operation with five locations, two in Carroll, so I was really surprised that we were greeted by one of the owners, Dante Liberatore, as our maîtres’d. The restaurant and bar area were packed and there was a small delay waiting for our table – those who arrived without reservations were politely told the wait would be ½ an hour. Our short wait gave me a chance to discuss Restaurant Week briefly with Dante – he’s a hard man to hold still as he is all over the place helping his staff with getting dinners out promptly and making sure that every guest is welcomed. Dante works the rooms like a pro making every diner feel special and it was obvious that many of the tables were full of regular patrons.  He’s a ball of energy and the epitome of a good restaurateur.  

Calamari is a good test of an Italian restaurant for me. It’s easy to goof up (frequently is) and can be either wonderful or a choice between a soggy mess or  an over – cooked blob of deep fried breaded something. We travel to Filomena’s in Georgetown just for the calamari that has soaked overnight in buttermilk to soften it and remove any fishy taste. By golly, Liberatore’s calamari might be just as good – tender, lightly battered and cooked perfectly. Dante’s not giving away his chef’s secret to it but that have it nailed perfectly and the serving really is ample for two to share. I also ordered the bruschetta which had nice, firm chopped fresh tomatoes and was lightly seasoned. At this point I began to feel guilty about eating so much of the good, crusty bread that was served promptly on our seating.
Our server, whose name I regrettably did not get, was knowledgeable and on top of things. He explained how some of the entrees were prepared and was obviously not an apprentice to the job. Debbie selected perhaps the least challenging entrée, the Chicken Parmigiana; I decided on a house specialty, the Tortellacchi Pizzaoli. The Chicken was a very large portion of two breast slices in a chunky tomato and onion sauce; accompanied by a side of spaghetti in a Marinara. This was real chicken, not the mushy stuff served up between two rolls at a franchise food joint. The same delicious sauce also accompanied my entrée which I can best describe as homemade, oversized tortellini pasta hats stuffed with chopped veal and beef. It was quite good and a nice diversion from the usual special menu fare. Both dishes are on the regular menu so they were good examples of this kitchen's use of Restaurant Week to put its best face forward.

The regular wine list at Liberatore’s is limited by comparison to those which offer a book with hundreds of listings. As I simply cannot eat Italian cuisine without wine I decided on a unique bottle from the renown Masi Vineyards. For a restaurant-reasonable price, we tried the ’08 Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese, which is a full bodied, fruity wine from Veneto that I thought resembled an Amarone. I hope to find some in a local liquor store as this wine is just as I like them, big and reasonably priced.  
Our dinner and our dining experience was a success thanks to a solid kitchen and masterful host. Dress is very casual for most although I do believe Dante may balk if you don’t have a shirt on.  Too bad only three people in all of Carroll County have suit jackets but at least there is a wide variety of T shirts even if few bother to tuck them into their trousers.
The prices on the regular menu are very reasonable and the Restaurant Week fare is a true bargain so we will surely be back to Liberatore’s many times in the future to explore the many offerings on their menu. Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Corner BYOB
Bring Your Own Bottle, Hon

Corner BYOB
850 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
 Restaurant Week Baltimore ended last week but I had heard good things about a unique spot in Hampden and wanted to put it on the list since the special menu looked intriguing. Unfortunately, I waited too long to make a reservation (they do not take e mail reservations) and when I called the only available times were for 5 PM and 9 PM, not my idea of dinner hours. Some restaurants you just don’t hesitate to make reservations at during Restaurant Week and this is one of them.
However, while fiddling around their web site I noticed that Corner BYOB has $25 three course specials every Monday night – and that menu looked pretty darn interesting so we decided to give it a go with some friends.
I don’t believe I have ever had occasion to go to Hampden in my entire life and I was astounded to see what a vibrant area it is with many restaurants and shops, neatly kept homes, and a very busy sidewalk scene, especially for a Monday night. Parking is a bit tricky as it is all curbside and spaces can be at a premium. We ended up finding a spot 2 blocks away in the residential area and I managed to keep from embarrassing myself by nailing the parallel parking on the first try. It’s not a skill I get to practice often these days in the Land of Asphalt, the parking lots in Carroll County.
The first impression we got of Corner BYOB was one puzzlement as we surely looked like yokels from the sticks by trying to enter via the front door. It was locked so I started to look for a doorbell and speakeasy window like the one at the old Martick’s in Baltimore. It turns out the entrance is on the side street(36th). Our next impression of the place was how small it is – and noisy. There can’t be more than a dozen tables in the joint and they were all full of people who obviously were there to enjoy the BYOB part of the place as some tables had several bottles of wine and glasses lined up on them. One large table of diners might have been holding a wine club meeting there. I do wish there were more restaurants doing the BYOB thing as it can save substantially on the cost of a meal and allow you to bring the best of what you like. We brought bottles of a French white and California Cabernet Sauvignon with us.

We were promptly seated and the staff obviously knows the wine end of the game as our first server (they serve by team there) quickly asked which bottle we wanted to start with and brought a bucket of ice to chill the white wine. If you happen to enjoy a mixed drink they serve Mocktails – you bring the rum, vodka, or gin and they provide the mixings. There are six appetizers, seven entrees and four desserts on the special Monday menu; remarkably we all chose different entrees. Equally remarkable was that two of us selected the Escargots & Maltaki mushrooms appetizer. Escargot is one delicacy I have failed to develop an appreciation for. I chose the spicy, creamy lobster bisque which is served in a very large bowl that makes the portion look small – actually the portion of soup is very sufficient but it will not be criticized for containing too much lobster meat. Debbie asked for the Cucumber and Tomato salad without the dreaded cucumber. Neither of us cares for cucumber and I don’t like it anywhere near anything else on my plate as its strong flavor infects any vegetable near it. Others I know LOVE cucumber, they can have mine. Unfortunately the salad arrived with large hunks of cucumber in it. I would have sent it back but Debbie ate around  them and enjoyed the salad with its balsamic vinaigrette and shaved red onion. The reviews on the escargot were mixed with one friend thoroughly loving it and the other feeling that the grilled preparation left a little too strong a suggestion of the char, although they were sautéed according to the menu. Hmm.
This restaurant can’t help but be noisy as the room is small and the diners are all having a wonderful time of things. It’s a fun atmosphere but it does make it a bit hard to have a normal conservation.
Bread is an option on the Monday night menu and I suppose that’s fair as Chef Bernard is obviously trying to keep the cost of the dinners low. We ordered a loaf of the house bread and their potato fries, alas the fries never showed up, a victim of the team server technique and a busy kitchen – or just a forgetful server.
I really had a hard time deciding between the Calf Liver entrée and the kilopot of mussels which they will prepare to your choice of four flavorings. I settled on the mussels marinere – a concoction of white wine, herbs, onion and celery all steamed together in a large pot served before you with an accompanying pot for the discarded shells. To be honest, I was a little disappointed because the mussels were small and not as flavorful as I have had elsewhere, most notably Timpano in Rockville where the serving is spectacular, the mussels huge and the broth glorious. At Corner BYOB the mussels are accompanied by their version of potato fries (shown below) or a serving of bread to mop up the broth with.

Debbie had the grilled ribeye steak with Lyonnais potatoes. She loved the green peppercorn sauce and pronounced the doneness as perfect. Another diner had the Red Snapper filet with baby beets, asparagus and a red beet coulis. She didn’t offer anyone a taste of her entrée as she apparently wanted it all for herself. The final entrée was the grilled lamb served on a creamy polenta. Fortunately my friend was willing to share a taste of the lamb and it truly was delicious.
For dessert there was the chocolate mousse/espresso – a serving of hot espresso over chocolate mousse that was well received. Debbie settled for the Dame Blanche, which I believe is best described as a vanilla ice cream sundae with lots of whipped cream. My citrus crepes were just a nice accompaniment to their lemon caramel sauce.
One of the eccentricities of Corner BYOB is that it requests diners to pay in cash – and we were told that up-front when we made the reservation. It’s another way of keeping the cost of the meal down by avoiding the fees the charge card operators charge restaurants – as much as 5% for some cards. Corner BYOB also announces on its menu that behaved children are welcome. It makes me smile when I think of what might occur if someone brings their ill-behaved little brat to the restaurant. I wonder how they handle ill-behaved adults.
Corner BYOB charges $1.00 per drinker as a glassware charge – very fair to my mind. It is easy to reach via the JFX to Cold Spring Lane to Falls Road. Given all the shops in the area it’s probably a good place to stroll around before or after diner on Fridays and Saturdays. I’d like to return to try the regular menu sometime and I do recommend this restaurant as something out of the ordinary with a good kitchen and the good sense to capitalize on the BYOB trade. Reserve ahead.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Rocco's Capriccio

Steadfast Italian, Familiy Operated
Rocco’s Capriccio
866 Fawn Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
We wanted to finish Restaurant Week Baltimore up in Little Italy so we chose to return to Rocco’s because they offer such a wide variety of choices for the limited menu. If you are wondering why we didn’t stop at your favorite restaurant in Little Italy it is because many of the restaurants there offer a very limited selection, the same old, same old or as in the case of one our favorites, La Scala, they don’t participate.
Roccos’ is at one of the busiest corners in Little Italy and shares the space with Germanio's, Sabbatino’s and Chipparelli’s. Parking for those wanting to be swift about it in an area with very few street parking spaces will use the efficient valet parking operated by an outfit that seems to have valet parking for all of Little Italy sewn up. It adds $10.00 to the expense of the meal.
We started with their fresh, crusty Italian bread and ample dipping olive oil with fresh herbs and garlic. Our server Victor was punctual throughout the night and started by carefully explaining the items on the special menu which are actually some of the most popular on the regular menu. We had the calamari appetizer which was about what is expected everywhere except the portion is huge and the fresh marinara sauce special. Rocco pays a lot of attention to his sauces and the simplest tomato based sauces are extraordinary here.
My choice was the Stuffed Veal, tenderloin of veal wrapped with prosciutto ham, asiago and gorgonzola cheeses, crusted with bread crumbs and topped in a wild mushroom sauce that is rosy in color and very delicate. It’s a large portion, tightly wound and quite flavorful. Almost a tad too flavorful as I thought the strongly flavored gorgonzola cheese was a strong a counter to the delicate sauce. This dish is however the most popular item on the regular menu at Rocco’s.

Debbie chose the Veal Romana, veal medallions in white wine topped with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese. It was simply devine. Had Debbie not eaten so much of the bread & calamari she might have been able to finish it off. It now awaits me in the land of left overs in the refrigerator.
Desserts consisted of a very large serving of Tira Misu buried in a whipped cream topping and the house cannoli which appeared to have a chocolate coating before it disappeared entirely.

I have a fondness for all Italian wines, both red and whites, although I am certainly no connoisseur of the many wines from the multiple wine districts in Italy. Of the five reds that were available from Southern Italy, I asked Victor for his suggestion for a full bodied one. He quickly recommended a very reasonably priced, recent bottling of a red blend from Puglia, the Tormaresca Neprica. His selection was spot on as it was both fruity and bold; dark red in color. Wine is also available by the glass but the selection is very limited.
No one at Rocco’s tried to push us off the Restaurant Week Menu; in fact we were encouraged to use it as were other diners around us. The decor is very simple, particularly when compared to some of the nearby Italian Palaces. They just do Italian food well there and it certainly is worth the short drive down the JFX to Little Italy.
Well, that is the end of our Restaurant Week Extravaganza for this summer but I have one more place up my sleeve.  This joint is a bit out of the ordinary, out of the way, and so popular I couldn’t get a reservation there in normal dining hours during Restaurant Week. Stay tuned…