[Sidebar] December 7 - 14, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Jimmy's Italian Kitchen

Classics plus originality

by Bill Rodriguez

301 Main St., East Greenwich, 885-9554
Open Mon-Thurs, 4:30-9 p.m., Fri-Sun, 4:30-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

When word got around that Jimmy's at the Italo was closing on West Broadway 18 months ago, the prospect was no small matter. There wasn't quite keening in the streets, but you could sure hear the stray restaurant maven muttering, even though greater Federal Hill was still left with more Italian restaurants than Cranston has nail salons.

Fortunately, heart palpitations subsided quickly when Jimmy's Italian Kitchen opened in East Greenwich soon after. It was no longer a short hop across town, and the pink marble and wood-paneled elegance of the Italo-American Club was gone, but Jimmy Kazounis (Italian on his mother's side) was still there to keep up the standards. Nowadays, he helms the kitchen Tuesday through Saturday evenings, along with chef Christopher Belleville, and handles lunches at the Player's Corner Pub, across from Trinity Rep, which he also owns (along with Chase's Place, in Lincoln).

Although the waitstaff is still in white shirts and ties, the ambiance no longer is one of the main attractions. The restaurant is in the Main Street space formerly occupied by the Italian restaurant Zenga's, and far from the previous intimacy, street-side showcase windows put diners on display. The tone of the place is inconsistent, from ceiling fans in the main dining room to prism chandeliers over a small dance floor in the bar and waiting area. Reservations are taken only for parties of six or more, but after our 6:30 Saturday arrival, we had to wait only about 15 minutes.

We came with another couple, so we could tempt ourselves with the choice of a second appetizer to share, as the pleasant keyboard stylings, as they say, of Joseph Cellissiti drifted our way. Usual menu suspects were in evidence, as were traditional choices for soup: chicken escarole and pasta e fagiole ($1.95/$2.75). A Tuscany version of fried calamari looked intriguing, as did a bruschetta under a cream sauce.

We were curious about what surprise was in store with the grilled pizza ($6.95), billed as the "chef's daily creation," and since even our attentive waitress didn't know what would arrive, we ordered one to find out. It came out thin-crusted, sliced in many small pieces, with roasted red peppers, scallions, and dollops of fresh mozzarella and a second cheese scattered about, so that every bite was not the same -- a winner. We also had the portobello torte ($6.95), and while it was small -- the size of a hockey puck -- the morsel we each got was exquisite: a balsamic reduction uniting the ricotta filling, roasted red pepper bits and fresh basil.

What wasn't a surprise was that each of our entrées was a hit with its selector. One comfort about menus of traditional, ingredient-oriented Italian dishes is that you pretty much know what you're going to get, with no unannounced flavor popping up. If our experience was typical, Jimmy's adds the reliability of a pleasing interpretation. Take their popular grilled duck breast ($15.95), as my fellow carnivore at the table was glad to. The spread of succulent slices -- medium-well, as ordered -- covered an earthy wild mushroom risotto and was topped with a black currant sauce, for perfect complements fore and aft.

Across from me was a dish I'd like to try next time, gambieri con carciofi ($17.95). Four jumbo shrimp were served not with pasta but over white beans, which made a lusciously sweet gravy that went perfectly with the artichokes and tomatoes. Similarly, the scallops in cream sauce ($16.95) inventively surrounded mashed potatoes. Shredded carrots and fresh fennel were accompanied by thyme and dill for bonus flavor, along with the roasted garlic. A simple, but not obvious offering -- and marvelous, to hear the person who ordered it.

I had a pasta, the rigatoni with broccoli rabe ($11.95). While it wasn't al dente, as I like, it was just to Johnnie's preferred doneness, and the proportions were generous: plenty of the deliciously bitter greens to go with each bite of pasta, along with a slice of sweet sausage. There were no complaints over my plate.

Neither was there disappointment with the dessert tray, except for my not being able to have a taste of each. The selections vary every day, and this night pastry chef Barbara Anderson prepared eight or 10 favorites, from cheesecake and pecan pie to multi-layered chocolate cake. We had two classics: creme brulée and tiramisu (both $5.95). The former was luscious, the caramelized sugar crust not too thick, and the liquor -- cognac, it turns out -- assertive, but not overpowering. The tiramisu -- described by one of our party as "cheesecake in a bowl" -- was so rich with mascarpone that we couldn't finish it.

Hopefully, Jimmy's will stick around this time. In case it doesn't, you might want to stock up on the memories.

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