Annarella Ristorante - July 2014 (dt)
6.60 – 7.3, 7.25, 6.75, 6.75, 6.75, 6.5, 6, 5.5

With a weave and a feint, Ken drove through the Old King’s Highway intersection, rejecting the left hand signal of the Karnes’ car following, maintaining full steam ahead on Malden Turnpike—nestling in at Annarella Ristorante, an upscale Italian restaurant that had eluded our dining radars until this summer.
          The parking lot was nearly full as we entered the front door, looking into a pastel blue room anchored by a right-angle bar with about fifteen seats, a piano, and two or three tables with seating for about twenty. Just as quickly, we were ushered into the main space—a 30’ by 40’, ringed with banquettes, with about fifteen tables filling the floor.
          AR’s menu hosts a half dozen appetizers, three salads, two soups, more than a half dozen “primi,” more than a dozen “secondi,” and a few “contorni” sides—all in Italian, with the helpful translations following.

Entrée selections showed off the AR’s range, and even the two steak-dependables chose otherwise this evening. So, with a heavy borrowing from the web site:
==> Tonnarelli con Aragosta—thin homemade pasta with lobster reduction, lobster meat and a touch of brandy (Deb K, Kerry: very good to excellent, for both)
==> Pappardelle al Cinghiale—wide fresh pasta with wild boar braised in red wine, juniper berries and herbs (Don: a hearty sauce, tasty meat, with a flavor of distinctive herb, very good; a good match for Chianti)
==> Lasagna al Ragu—traditional meat lasagna with bechamel sauce and parmigiano reggiano (Ken, Kriss: both excellent)
==> Costoletta di Maiale—roasted pork chop with roasted apple and fingerling potatoes (Deb T: quite excellent, moist pork with the apple a fine complement)
==> Gamberoni e Fagioli—jumbo shrimp with Tuscan style cannellini beans, tomatoes and sage (Chay: so-so, probably a bit more bean than expected, with no pasta-which was not promised)
==> Pollo al Limone--parmigiano Reggiano crusted chicken breast in a white wine and lemon sauce with spinach (Julie: very good)

A house salad accompanied the entrées—a half-handful of greens, a half-handful of fennel, coated with a light lemony dressing. Half of us thought it very good or excellent or intriguing or inventive, with half of us judging the fennel flavor and texture too domineering or unpleasant.
          Deb K ordered the Insalata di Finocchi (fennel and orange salad with black olives and radicchio) and thought it very good.
          Preceding the salad was the presentation of two plates, each containing four pieces of soft bread bruschetta, and a few pieces of sliced Italian bread awaiting a choice of three hummuses from the separate wood tray—a worthy introduction.

Desserts beckoned to most of us, even though the orally delivered list was short.
Tartuffo—a ball of chocolate covered vanilla-chocolate ice cream protecting its center cherry, presented in several slices (Don, Kriss, a Quinn share: all excellent)
Lemon gelato—a tall goblet topped with a lemon cap (a Karnes share: excellent)
Vanilla ice cream with a set-aside shot-mug of chocolate expresso topping (Deb T: good although she realized upon delivery that sipping the espresso might not suit the evening’s sleep)
Sambuca, for Chay
nuttin’ for Ken

All in all, AR gave a worthy presentation of Italian food, a welcome respite from what usually passes as Italian.

The drink list consisted of a water, two sodas, and two bottles of Salcheto 2012 Chianti Colli Senesi, a genial match for our meals.

Service by Sarah was a mix of very good and so-so, with the so-so parts mostly beyond her control.
          She was attentive, personable, informative, friendly. However, she could not overcome the especially busy evening at AR, as was explained later by the manager, by the evening of 75 diners when 40 is more usual. And that high volume affected service time.
          Salads were delivered at the 55 minute mark, with entrées at the 100 minute mark, a bunch later than most places we go to.
          And the noise level affected Sarah’s ability to announce the specials; she compensated by gathering at three different points of the table to read the specials, since no one spot allowed all of us to hear her. The din finally abated when the room half emptied.
          To be noted was the attempt to deliver meals en masse, with the help of another of the waitstaff, and that was appreciated. However, drinks were forgotten, and one entrée was noticeable by it rather late delivery.
          Not to be forgotten were the pepper mills – nearly a yard long. Not necessary but quite memorable.
          And the wait staff dress code—black pants, black vests, white shirts—certainly sets a more formal tone, and one that is stereotypically Italian (but admired also).

Ambiance has been hinted at already. The noise level was one of the highest we have encountered. The manager came around at meal’s end to check on us, and to explain how busy they were this evening. And we know a Saturday evening at prime time is bound to be the busiest time of the week. (An unusual note was an offer for a drink on the house just as we were rising to leave.)
          About fifteen white-linened tables filled the center floor within the ring of banquettes. A single votive candle, blue goblet water glasses, and three-piece services marked each table.
          Dark manufactured-wood floors matched the wide, tongue-and-groove, diagonal wainscoting, with a beige-ish paint filling the upper half. What appeared to be white soundproofing filled the expanse above but the noise level defied the tiles’ effectiveness.
          Lighting came from recessed lighting (randomly spaced, but apparently deliberately centered above each table), as well as the Ulla Darni-ish sconces on two walls, several ship lantern-ish metal-rib hung globes, the metal work of which we admired.
          A large ceiling beam, ending in two decorative columns gave the appearance of two rooms but it was clearly one large space. A fireplace, faux or real I could not ascertain, added to the ambiance. A maître d’s podium, with one large light, fit the room’s opening.

The final bill, including all expenses, came to $100 per couple, a fair amount we thought for the quality meal we had just enjoyed. Overall, AR held good promise, better if we could choose a less busy night.

The evening had started at the Monteverd residence, with an initial clustering around the counter, as usual, but we were soon lured onto the back deck under the awning on a pleasant summer evening. Ken made sure the glasses were full with a Montepulciano, soda, or variety of beer, while Kriss had prepared a plate of three cheeses and two crackers, a plate of six fruits/vegetables, and the wooden pineapple bowl of cashews, non-pareils, and, the crowd favorite, Krause’s chocolate malt balls. (Why did we have to leave to go anyplace else?)
          Topics from evening covered more ground than I can remember but a starting point goes as follows: the Monteverds’ new hybrid car (how it works, Kriss not driving it, etc.), stuff about the Quinns (Julie retiring at some too-distant point, Kerry enjoying another year at C-D, whereabouts of children, adventures of offspring, the dogs, and more), the rest of our children, our surviving parents, summer vacation almost half-over (isn’t every day summer vacation for most of us?), Deb’s dance camp photo job, Don’s bicycling, ascertaining what Ken is doing for retirement, golfing outings and to which courses, Beer World, Kriss’s outings with friends, the grandkid, pictures from Tim and Judy, the Teator excursion next month, the Karnes excursion next month, valuable crocks, and… there’s more but it has escaped my attention.