A formidable newcomer
by Bill Rodriguez
359 Main St., Wakefield, 783-9944
Open Tues-Sat, 5-9:30 p.m.
Major credit cards
What, another Italian restaurant? They have been popping up around Rhode Island
like mushrooms after the spring rain of the robust economic climate. But
Trieste, which opened in Wakefield in April, is hardly just another entrant in
the ongoing Al Forno wannabe competition. It has leapt onto the short list of
places that could make a Northern Italian think he'd died and gone to
It calls itself a café and trattoria. You walk into a small place,
dimly lit, with apple green walls and the occasional multi-colored ceramic bowl
or vase bursting into view, like the similarly designed plates set before
diners. Ivy dangles from sconces on the walls. Jazz piano tinkles in the
background. They couldn't get a liquor license, so you have to bring your own.
With your nice glass of wine you'll be served a basket of both French and
Italian bread, along with herb-infused olive oil, sparked up with red pepper
flakes. The oil stain problem is handled sensibly by giving you not a cruet but
a small bowl and a tablespoon. The tables, paper-topped bistro style, are
devoid of floral distraction, as though only the food matters.
Putting interesting spins on what could be ordinary seems to be a consistent
effort here. Such as with the antipasti. The bruschetta ($8.95) is topped with
jumbo shrimp, and the typical prosciutto on another offering is instead smoked
venison. Perhaps the best demonstration is Trieste's calamari ($6.95). It is
grilled rather than fried, and the whole tubular bodies are served, rather than
cut into rings, sans tentacles, on a bed of spinach with hot cherry pepper
slices. Grilling is a brave decision, since the squid is chewier than if
fast-fried, though not objectionably so. The resulting smoky flavor given to
the bland shellfish is quite wonderful. A drizzle of balsamic reduction is a
thoughtful taste complement. Johnnie thought she'd recognized the grilled
calamari from Raphael's, and we learned from our hostess, Anna Allsworth, that
the chef, Gene Allsworth, had worked there for years. He has also headed the
kitchen at the White Horse Tavern, in Newport.
Salads range from a mixed greens house salad ($4.95) with a top-shelf aged
balsamic in the vinaigrette, to one with arugula and mandarin oranges ($6.95).
There are eight or so each of the pastas and main dishes, including specials.
Interesting choices hide in the menu, so peruse it carefully. You don't want to
miss the pan-roasted quails in the cavatelli ($18.95), or the confit of rabbit
Hardly any Italian restaurant fails to offer a chicken and pasta dish as a
simple, inexpensive choice and I had to see what Trieste would do with this.
Their penne e pollo ($15.95) is made with chicken slow-roasted for succulence,
rather than simply pan-fried. Pieces of chicken are tossed with wild mushrooms
and oven-dried tomatoes to concentrate their flavor, in a butter sauce with
roasted garlic. The effect is to pull out and maximize every taste in this
symphonic little medley.
My dining mate had the torretta di melanzane ($15.95), a little tower of three
thick grilled eggplant slices, which sandwich spinach, ricotta and mascarpone,
Napoleon-style, over linguini. Tear-drop yellow and red tomatoes decorated the
light tomato sauce pleasantly heavy on scallions. Johnnie liked it, except that
it was too highly peppered for her, so I ended up trading plates for more than
a sample. Having had lunch at Federal Reserve by that culinary troupe visiting
from Florence, I'd planned on just tasting our entrées and taking the
rest home. But the melding of flavors was compelling, so there wasn't much left
when I pulled myself away.
We had to save room for Trieste's desserts. Having done so well with the meal
and knowing that the "dolci" were all made there, we had to have two instead of
just sharing one. We went for the two most popular, bowing to prior acclaim.
The warm bread pudding ($6) was baked with large pieces of bread -- a tasty
Tuscan boule -- and served under a heap of plump blueberries with a tangy
crème anglaise. My choice, the tortino caldo di cioccolato ($7), was
worth the wait while it was baked to order. The bittersweet chocolate cake had
a melted chocolate center that spilled onto a splash of caramel sauce. I was
impressed by the intensity of the taste -- which then clicked up a notch when a
fat blackberry burst into flavor.
Speaking of reaching a higher level, if everyone around here who loves Italian
restaurants visits this place, the already demanding culinary expectations in
Rhode Island will get even more exacting. And why not? Every neighborhood
deserves a Trieste.