Published February 21. 2013 4:00AM
When deciding where to go out to dinner, we often start with location. We'll pick a town, maybe Westerly, Mystic or New London, and run through a list of our favorite restaurants.
Which is why, I'm guessing, we hadn't been to Buon Appetito before. North Stonington just hasn't been on our restaurant radar.
Clearly, others haven't made the same mistake. When I called Saturday morning, I was given two options for a reservation: 5:30 or 7:30. And when we arrived Saturday night, the place was jammed.
Our group of four was seated promptly, however, in the front section of the restaurant, where a dozen or so tables face a wall of windows where we could watch the snow fall, and the bar overlooks the wood-fired pizza oven. The room is comfortable, and it's noisy in a way that says people are having a good time. There's a dining room on the other side of the kitchen, which is probably best if you're looking for something quieter.
It's hard to imagine the vinyl booths and diner fare of the Dew Drop Inn, which was in this location for 74 years, or its successor, Rosie's. After that rickety building was knocked down, the town purchased the property in 2008. Buon Appetito opened in the winter of 2011, after protracted lease negotiations and a debate over whether liquor could be served.
The menu is extensive, ranging from calzones and pizzas to steaks, chops, seafood and Italian dishes. The menu offers wine suggestions for some entrees, and in a nice touch the wine list features a picture of each bottle with a printed description of the wine.
I ordered an antipasto and pasta fagioli soup, two benchmark dishes for any Italian restaurant.
When the antipasto ($12.50) was placed on our table, I knew we were in for an outstanding night of dining. Beautifully presented, the plate featured green olives, cheddar, provolone and fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, roasted red peppers and Italian cold cuts, sitting atop balsamic vinegar and olive oil. With the warm, crusty bread brought by our server, I could have made a meal of this.
When I received my pasta fagioli ($5), however, my wife commented that they had instead brought me the lentil soup. Indeed, it wasn't the traditional version of ditalini and cannellini beans in a tomato broth, instead using elbow macaroni and a darker bean. Just the same, I enjoyed every spoonful.
We also started with some New England clam chowder ($6), which was thick and tasty, and calamari ($10). We chose a side of marinara instead of chipolte aioli or a balsamic reduction. The consensus on the calamari was that the batter was on the plain side and maybe one of the other two sides would have helped with that, as we prefer the spicier Rhode Island calamari.
For entrees, we selected grilled hanger steak ($22), pappardelle bolognese ($17), swordfish ($24) and Stonington scallops ($24).
The steak, which arrived perfectly cooked, came with onion soup risotto and potato chips. The chips struck us as an odd accompaniment for a $22 entrée and weren't anything special.
The swordish was topped with a wood-roasted tomato sauce, and came with mashed yukons and roasted asparagus. My wife declared it "fresh and delectable."
The scallops were pan seared and served under a roasted vegetable ragout and with a pesto risotto. This dish comes highly recommended.
I ordered the bolognese and asked if I could have it with penne. But our server recommended I stick with the pappardelle, a wide noodle, and I was glad I took her advice as it held the bolognese perfectly. I expected a little more from the bolognese, especially if it had been simmering for hours.
But overall the entrees were excellent and at this point we were very satisfied.
The menu, however, said the desserts were made in house so ?...
Somehow we passed on the tiramisu and crème brule, and instead opted for a fallen chocolate cake, butter roasted banana bread pudding and caramel apple crostada (all desserts are $7.95). I've been on something of a bread pudding kick lately and this version, served with ice cream, was the best I've had. The crostada and chocolate cake quickly disappeared, too, and we sat there, full and happy, before heading back out into the snow. Buon Appetito has single-handedly made North Stonington a dining destination.