Worcester Magazine July 17, 2008—Eat beat dining

Worcester Magazine July 17, 2008—Eat beat dining

Sound the alarm. It’s still good, even without basketball.
By Matt Quinn

My wife and I last visited piccolo’s 2005 amid the mild hysteria of the city’s hosting of the 2005 NCAA March madness tournament. The place, like everything else in town that weekend, rocked with the peculiar feeling of lots of outsiders having a good time. We had a great time then, too.
Well, here it is 2008, a little more than three years later, and we found ourselves yearning one of their classy, Italian-styled meals.
We arrived to the remodeling completed after the new owners took over the former Primo’s Restaurant— converting the front dining room to a complete bar, after installing or unveiling a ceramic tile floor. The rear area, now serving as a primary dining room, and lit by plate glass looking out on Shrewsbury Street, and features mahogany paneling, a vintage tin ceiling, a  hodgepodge of Art Nouveau prints, and sitting there in about 60, set with matching, eclectic dinnerware and linen napkins.
From a wine list that includes about 20 whites (eight by the glass, $5.95-$8.95;  bottles $27-$89—plus champagne) and the 35 reds (12 by the glass, $6.95-$8.95; bottles $27-$89), we heard of a popular Italian Maso Canali Pinot Grigio (436).
Piccolo’s menu takes traditional northern Italian cuisine and refines it with unique ingredients. We chose to appetizers: Santino’s favorite garlic bread ($9.95), a loaf of ciabatta bread, baked with butter, fresh chives and roasted garlic and served with the Gorgonzola cheese fundutu (warm dressing); and large Insalata Bel Mondo (Piccolo’s most popular dish, according to the menu —$9.95), a salad of romaine lettuce, cranberries, Granny Smith apples, smoked almonds and Gorgonzola cheese, mixed with a white balsamic vinaigrette.
Garlic bread is a ubiquitously popular treat, but never had I heard the genuinely enthusiastic accolades that accompanied this dish. The ciabatta bread was an excellent substitution for Italian bread, full of nooks and crannies that held the delicious butter and garlic; the Gorgonzola fonduta was out of this world, and a perfect complement to the bread. My son declared it the best he’d ever had and I second the motion.
The salad took the usual Apple-Walnut salad and substituted smoked almonds, which provided a distinctive flavor, and complemented the other rich flavors, including a very light vinaigrette.
Soon after,our meals arrived: Polo e Malanza Sorrentina ($17.95), a classic dish of fresh-cut gemelli pasta topped with layered eggplant and chicken breast, a deeply baked cheese, and a marinara. The dish outsized my wife, who is no match for it and carried more than half home; Gamberi e Salmone ,”Piccata Style”, stamp and salmon piccata ($19.95), for which my guest has substituted more shrimp, over a bed of linguine, capers and lemon slices, in a light, delicious lemon-oil sauce; my special— roasted pork braccioli ($19.95), a gorgeously roasted wrap of thin pork, cheese, and pepperoni, cut into fourths, surrounded by broccoli raab and roasted garlic bulbs; and my son’s custom-made mini flatbread pizza ($8.95), with fresh basil, marinara and cheese.
After our outstanding meals, we decided on two coffees ($2 each) and the perfect July dessert: a fresh strawberry and homemade whipped cream martini ($6.95), and then called for the check, which the friendly and attentive Malissa brought: $170.36 before tip for four (or about $105 without wine). We all felt that Piccolo’s really is a cut above the typical Worcester Italian restaurant and deserves a visit.
4.5 stars food
4 stars ambience
4 stars service
4 stars value
(Matt Quinn is a pseudonym.)