April 2009 (dt)
6.56 - 7.5, 7, 7, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 6, 6
Messina’s Italian Restaurant is a pleasant,
comfort-food-with-a-zest, chance-to-recover, low-key place to relax. A
semi-walled alleyway leads past the bar into two rooms. One is a sunroom
addition with curved glass that frames a dramatic view of the ski mountain and
its untouched western flanks. We were seated in the middle of the other room, a
larger space from which we could catch glimpses of the same view.
The ambience is a bit understated, with the look of a recent addition or a re-do of a 30x30 foot space with functional but little architectural character. Burgundy linens draped the seven or eight tables, two of them slid together for us. Nondescript sound-softening ceiling tiles were efficient but sterile. Framed photographs of Italian sites, pots and pans hanging on the walls, and kitschy Italian coffee posters decorated the walls. Diagonally-pieced wood siding on one wall warmed the ambience a bit. Still, the view of the mountains gathers first attention. Meanwhile, the room temperature, at first, felt comfortable but seemed to get slightly uncomfortably warm as the evening went on.
The menu is big, with many of the Italian menu names needing some explanation for us and, fortunately, most of the lesser known ones were printed. Nearly twenty appetizers tried to lure us but knowing that salad and bread accompanied the entrees steered us away. (On second thought, I might be tempted to try a couple of the appetizers plates the next time instead of an entrée.)
Water glasses were filled upon our seating, with two baskets of piping hot Italian, sesame-topped bread arriving within minutes, topped with paper-covered individual slices of butter.
The drink order promptly followed, with a note from our server that the wine selection might be diminished after the restaurant just having reopened after a vacation. Tim’s second pick, Gabbiano 2007 Chianti, was a satisfactory choice, a pleasant Chianti. Two diet sodas and a water filled out the drink order. After a couple of early glass refills, Deanna left two glass pitchers of iced water on the table, a very satisfactory arrangement with us water drinkers.
A choice of a house salad awaited, arriving twenty minutes after seating. An eight inch plate was filled with a thin layer of spring mix and spinach, with three curls of carrot, and three cherry tomatoes. Choices from the list of salad dressings came in a plastic cup on the side. Not spectacular but, again, satisfactory and comfy.
The entrée choices numbered at least fifty! Our selections seemed to show most of the range with the surprise non-selection of beef. In order: pork Michaelangelo, grilled apples and tomatoes, a whisper of cream (Tim; very good); Veal alla Classico, thin cutlets, with spinach, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, brandy sauce (Judy; very good); pork Parmigiana, classic preparation (Ken; excellent, with a tasty sauce); rigatoni Bolognese (Kriss; very good); orecchiette alla quadrino, broccoli, scallops, sausage, shrimp, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes in a brown sauce (Deb K; excellent; Don tasted and agreed); seafood fra diavlo special, arriving in a large platter with a mussel discard plate covering (Chay; wanted the calamari on the side but they came mixed in; good); cappoloni alla Classico – tortellini, in a vodka cream sauce, with the other ingredients of Judy’s (Don; very good); and shrimp fra diavlo, with mussels and clams (Deb; excellent). All the non-pasta courses came with roasted potatoes and zucchini medley. All in all, we all had a hearty, comfy dinner, with familiar foods presented a twist of zesty difference.
After a pause, the question of dessert arose. Obviously, there should have been no question, because everyone partook. The sippers did their usual Frangelica and Sambuca. The “usual” dessert-ers ordered an goblet of apricot cream with sliced almonds and apricot liqueur (Judy; satisfactory; Don thought so, too); mint chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge syrup (Kriss; good, and a good portion); vanilla ice cream with fudge syrup (Ken, good); crème brûlée (Deb T, good); the double fudge ice cream frenzy – chocolate ice cream with chocolate fudge and chocolate chunks (Don, good); and a cookies and cream ice cream concoction with fudge sauce and chocolate chips (Deb, good).
Service was generally good to excellent for this level of restaurant. Eileen was friendly, sociable (we forgave the Brooklyn accent), efficient, willing to give more information. Busperson Deanna (a current student at C-D) was attentive in filling glasses, taking away plates, and doing so with a smooth and self-assured presence. The remaining server, the deliverer of the food, performed her job of delivering but became part of the glaring service weakness.
Eileen had made it a huge point of taking our orders, in sequence, and then repeating them back to us. Then, the food was delivered, each dish was presented to the table, and the deliverer, who was not the order taker, clumsily had to ask each time who ordered what dish. It was a blatant mismatch of good intentions and inane process.
Pacing was good, although a couple noted it may have felt a wee slow early on. Water, bread, salad course, entrée course, desserts and bill flowed reasonably well and culminated ... in slightly over two hours.
The final bill left a few gasping, wondering if Deb K had it right. Eighty dollars per couple, including all the food we ate, with tip and tax and alcohol, seemed like a great value.
Although Messina’s does not have the required touches of the next level of fine dining, it certainly was a comfy place that did so many things right and remains a place to go back to for a casual night.
The evening had started at the Monteverds. It was subdued
bunch, tired might be the better word, that gathered this evening. The Adamses
had transported a couple loads of mulch, Deb was laboring at Nathan’s new
house on the Mohawk, the Karneses were working outside, Chay was fighting a
lingering cold, Tim had a back ache from the mulch, and so on. And, a record 90
degrees, even if a dry heat, sapped everyone a bit, especially after the 50s of
two days earlier.
The six of us pulled into the driveway within a minute of each other, stood outside for five minutes, examined the deer damage, and finally made our way into the house. Ken and Kriss had prepared a fruit plate, a cheese plate, and the crackers and cashews plate-bowl. Accompanied by our usual selection of beer and wine, we spent a pleasant 40 minutes catching up on news since our last dinner date of six weeks previous.
Topics included Nathan’s purchase of a house on the Mohawk River and DIY Deb, Judy’s trip to Palm Springs, the grandchildren, Chay and Deb’s trip to see her mother, the Monteverds’ trip to Myrtle Beach during spring break, Don’s bicycling, a modicum of school stuff, weather, damn deer again, mowing lawns, and more April stuff.
We left at 6:30 and the Monteverds faked us out as soon as they turned right on Route 23. Then, the sneak play of DP8 history occurred (well, the Karneses’ deception about the Freehold House is up there too), with the Ken pulling off at Point Lookout, parking, and getting out. Deb K had driven past, had to back up, and apparently was accepting Kriss determination to let the worst ever rated dp8 date (Kriss’ pick, for which she takes full responsibility even though we try our best to reassure her) be given a chance to improve with a rare second visit. Falling hook, line, and sinker, the other car almost emptied out before the deception was revealed. Finally, re-embarking, the Monteverds took the long way, via South Street, to Messina’s, at the far end of town.
Kriss had made the reservation based on the recommendation of Deanna, and we knew the bartender (Deanna’s mom, and also a former student at C-D).
Innuendos were dang sparse, probably the result of tired brains. However, ....