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Resturante de Ricardo is first rate dining establishment

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There’s a new restaurant at America’s Best Value hotel on Arsenal Street.

Resturante de Ricardo has replaced India Palace restaurant. It’s an Italian sit-down restaurant, the brainstorm of Dick Alexander (Dick equals Richard equals Ricardo ... get it?).

Dick owned and operated Carriage House Best Western in downtown Watertown from 1995 to 2010. At age 79, Dick just couldn’t face getting out of the restaurant business, so he opened Ricardo’s a few months ago.

We should clear one thing up right away. Dick’s restaurant is in no way affiliated with Riccardo’s Market, the hometown favorite offering homemade Italian take-out since 1983 from their Holcomb Street location. It’s a little misleading — not like Dick didn’t know about Riccardo’s. It’s less than a mile from the Best Western he owned for 15 years.

Another thing. Let’s get the name straight. The sign on the outside of the building says Resturante de Ricardo. On their menus it’s Restaurante de Riccardo’s.

Now that I’m done venting, let me say that we had a very nice experience at Ricardo’s. The remodeled room is comfortable with a nice layout and flow to it. There’s a full bar to the left as you enter with an island to catch the overflow while waiting for a table.

Our server, John, was polite and professional with excellent timing throughout the evening. He answered questions we had about menu items with ease and made some good recommendations.

He started us out with a couple of small, crusty-on-the-outside, warm-on-the-inside loaves of bread supplied with garlic-parsley butter on the side. At John’s suggestion, we tried a glass of house-made Sangria (red wine mixed with fruit and some kind of soda). For $6.99 it was just OK, nothing special.

We shared three appetizers among the four of us: Utica greens ($8.95), shrimp ala casa ($8.95) and their flatbread pizza ($7.95).

The Utica greens were nicely done, escarole sautéed with fresh garlic, sweet and hot peppers and prosciutto and finished with seasoned bread crumbs and grated cheese. They were tasty, with that distinctive bite you expect from them.

The shrimp were noticeably small, and only four of them, served in a bath of garlic and olive oil. The shrimp disappeared in an instant, but the garlic oil left behind was perfect for dunking the great crusty bread left on the table.

Both the greens and the shrimp were uniquely served (and cooked, we assumed) in little six-inch cast iron skillets. A nice touch, we thought.

The restaurant only offers one flatbread, spinach and artichoke. It’s made with tomatoes, roasted garlic, EVOO, fresh basil, spinach, artichoke and mozzarella, finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Not much different from a flatbread you’d get anywhere else, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Entrees do not come with a salad. John astutely suggested we share an antipasto salad, but we decided to head directly to the main course.

There are only nine items to choose from. The short list begins with a make-up-your-own pasta dish for $10.95. You pick your pasta (linguini, penne, cavatelli or gnocchi) and pick your sauce (marinara, bolognaise or their “house specialty”).

But when we found out you can get any of the pastas and sauces as a side, we decided against ordering one as an entrée.

Haddock Oreganata ($12.95) was a real surprise — so simple yet so flavorful. A nice piece of fresh haddock was topped with seasoned, buttered bread crumbs and dried oregano. The fish was baked in a lovely sauce of butter, white wine and lemon. It was delicious.

We ordered a side of gnocchi with their house specialty sauce — tomatoes, garlic, basil, butter and white wine). The gnocchi were good, but the sauce — excellent!

Chicken Piedmontese ($12.95) was a real winner. A large boneless breast of chicken was topped with a generous amount of prosciutto, dipped in an egg wash and sautéed in butter, garlic and parsley, finished with chicken stock to make a delicious sauce. The chicken itself was moist and flavorful.

Cavatelli pasta (small shells that look like miniature hot dog buns) was the side of choice, drenched in a meaty bolognaise sauce. The scrumptious sauce is the owner’s own recipe, simmered for hours using top-quality canned plum tomatoes, onions garlic, ground beef, sausage, basil, cheese and a touch of Cabernet.

Another winner — Frutti di Mare ($16.95), which translated means “fruits of the sea,” was a bowlful of shrimp, scallops, clams, garlic, basil, sun dried tomatoes, white wine, butter and tomato sauce tossed with imported linguini.

It was an ample portion with enough to share among all of us. The sauce was flavorful; the seafood and pasta were cooked just right. We’d get this dish again in a heartbeat.

Pork tenderloin is one of my favorite meats, and Ricardo’s preparation ($12.95) was a great one, wrapped with smoked bacon, skillet seared then oven baked, finished with a wine reduction sauce. The meat was cut into medallions, still moist and totally flavorful. A side of penne with marinara, made with prestige Alta Cucina brand tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic, was a great complement.

For dessert, we shared miniature cannolis (tubes of fried pastry dough with a sweet ricotta filling) and a dish of spumoni (Italian ice cream made with layers of flavors), both perfectly acceptable commercially-made confections.

Dinner for four (three appetizers, four entrees, two desserts and a glass of Sangria) cost $107.33 with tax but before tip.

Owner Dick Alexander was in the house, dining with friends at a nearby table. He took the time to visit with his customers, introducing himself and conversing with them.

At our table, he was eager to tell us about some of his original recipes and some that were “stolen” from other people, he said with a chuckle. He offered us a glass of his favorite “Italian” wine, a Cabernet from a vineyard in Chile. In true Italian style after the meal, he offered us a nightcap of Limoncello or Sambuca.

Several observations:

n It was refreshing to see a menu that boasts “fresh garlic” and “fresh basil” or “prosciutto” you actually get just that, and plenty of it. Kudos to chef Tom Gladle for executing a menu with attention to detail.

n Other than our table and the owner’s, there were only two other tables occupied the night we were there. A sparse crowd, considering what we thought was a pleasurable evening of dining out.

n While the restaurant is attached to a hotel, the food is far from what we associate with “hotel food.” It was first-rate. One of my guests summed it up best, saying “I was totally surprised with the experience. Honestly, I was expecting much less and got much more.”

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.



Info for box on jump page....



Resturante de Ricardo

at America’s Best Value hotel

1196 Arsenal St.

Watertown, N.Y.

788-6800

Resturante de Ricardo has replaced India Palace restaurant on Arsenal Street. It’s an Italian sit-down restaurant, the brainstorm of noted Watertown entrepreneur Dick Alexander.

HOURS: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

OUR FAVORITES: Haddock Oreganata, Frutti di Mare, Chicken Piedmontese.

Be sure to try any of their pastas and sauces as a side.

RATING: 4 forks

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