Pride of the City — March 31, 2005

Pride of the City—March 31, 2005
Piccolo’s • 157 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester 01604 • 508-754-1057

By Matt Quinn

Fans of Primo’s will be surprised and pleased by Piccolo’s, the new establishment at 157 Shrewsbury St.

My wife and I made the trek to pick allows — through March madness traffic — on Friday evening at about six. Madness is right; I had to circumvent downtown, follow Franklin Street up behind Shrewsbury Street, drop-down by the old Coca-Cola building and backtrack. I’d gladly do it again, however, any time thousands of visitors have cause to descend on our fair city.

Piccolo’s would to, I’m sure, as the place — like every other on the street — was packed. We joined the party in progress, muscling up to the bar for a drink. I started with a Peroni lager ($4.25), a sweet and light Italian brew. My wife went with an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($6.95).

John Piccolo, the former head chef at Anthony’s, has made significant changes to the front room, removing the old bank cages and most of the tables and installing a bar. (Yes, Piccolo’s has a full liquor license.)

The new layout exposes a vintage mosaic floor and opens the former dining area up to standing room, with the exception of a few small booths that line the front windows. Also new to the front room are two plasma TVs.

An expected hour-long wait turned into more like half an hour — a pleasant surprise. We were led to the back room, bustling with a capacity crowd. The red, hard wood paneled room is rich and dark, tempered with a bit of brightness by the tin ceiling and several Art Nouveau prints.

Kristin, our server, bubble with intimate enthusiasm, offering a complimentary sample of sweet Muscat out dessert wine, which we accepted.

The menu immediately drew our attention and my wife fell in love, drawn by virtually every dish. I however, was pleasantly distracted by my beer, the room and the crowd.

My wife redirected my focus to the menu and we agreed to start with the crisp, fried oysters in a lemon caper sauce ($9.95). They arrived unadorned but elegantly plated, and piping hot. Ah, more pause to sip my beer! They were, as advertised, crispy — and also delicious. The sauce was sweet and tangy, the oysters succulent, plump and juicy.

We then turned to the entrées, a variety of anything but ordinary Italian fare, from pasta to poultry, seafood to beef, each in a fresh recipe and ranging from $15 to $25. With difficulty, my wife chose the Gamberi Valentino ($19.95): sautéed shrimp with asparagus, garlic, almonds and apricots, mixed with gemelli pasta (solid spirals). The shrimp were massive, colorful and tender; the asparagus slender, but firm. The apricots imbued every morsel with their sweet flavor. Very interesting and well prepared; although not quite my bag, my wife enjoyed the dish well enough to eat most of it.

My entrée was Anita Arrosto; roasted duck and blood orange balsamic glaze with cannellini beans, spinach and sweet onions. The duck — moist, flavorful, crispy and roasted the deep brown — came splayed; one large portion, including a wing, some breast and a leg. Great stuff. The texture and sweet and sour flavors of cannellini, spinach and onions satisfied my taste buds.

A look at the dessert tray let us to the one item made on the premises: tiramisu. The Piccolo version is a freestanding, cake like dessert with cocoa and mascarpone cheese. Oh, and the important information: it was rich, heavenly and exceedingly sweet.

By this point, the hoop fans were gone and replaced by the local crowd, who projected a softer buzz than the visitors. We headed out. Total check before tip: $75.39. We left Piccolo’s with a warm satisfaction and a lot of pride for our little city, for being such a great host and showing us such a good time.

Matt Quinn is a pseudonym. Comments? E-mail: