Italian Corner

A treat, but not every night
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 16, 2008  |  Recommended By 2 People
 
Italian Corner | 401.431.1737 | 10 Boyd Ave, East Providence | Mon-Fri, 9:30 am-6:30 pm; Sat-Sun, 9:30 am-8:30 pm | Major credit cards | BYOB | Sidewalk-level accessible
We had to check out this place after Genie said it made her feel like she was back in Italy. Italian Corner is a market that specializes in Italian food. It offers gourmet grinders every day, but from 5:30 to 8:30 on Saturday nights — and Friday nights, come August — proprietor Osvaldo Pirrò comes out of retirement as a master chef (Golden Fork Award and all) — to provide dinner.

Deciding among the antipasti took a while, not because the list was so long (a half-dozen entrees), but because the opportunities were so compelling. That and the house-made tortellini in the chicken soup ($4.95) was a good sign.

Johnnie’s eyes kept coming back to the portobello al Gorgonzola ($11.50), and mine to the carpaccio di bresaola ($13.50), the arugula and white truffle olive oil getting my attention. Taking our time was encouraged by the flavorful and crisp-crusted Italian bread, made there, and by a good olive oil packed with freshly crushed garlic.

 

In the Continental tradition, tap water is not served, thereby not insulting your presumably refined palate. But San Pellegrino, Panna, and Tavina mineral waters are reasonably priced, at $2.99.

Our party of three was well pleased after we decided to have the antipasto ($12.50). Johnnie got her Gorgonzola, which was especially creamy, as well as provolone and Asagio; I got two varieties of prosciutto, as well as half-moons of salami; and we all enjoyed the roasted mushrooms, marinated mushrooms, and artichoke heart. The white anchovies were a salty treat.

The dozen pastas and risotti posed difficult choices. Unusual items included linguini alla Bottarga ($25), whose sauce was made with an unusual variation on caviar: dried tuna eggs.

But we went for the pasta Norma ($14.15). Thin circles of fried eggplant decorated the edge of the plate, while chunks of the vegetable were tossed with San Marzano plum tomatoes in the thick, yellow, fresh fettuccine noodles. Ricotta dura was shaved on top, with more melting within. There was enough for a delicious second course for all of us.

We were told that the most popular entrée that night was rabbit cacciatore. Other unusual items included the Venetian-style lasagna ($16.50) — with layers of Bechamel sauce as well as Bolognese sauce; and King crab fra diavola ($26.50).

We hadn’t arrived very hungry, so we intended to share an entrée as well as the pasta. Of the eight meat and fish dishes, the prospect of chicken picatta ($16.50) was the most agreeable. It turned out to be even more pleasant in actuality, with the two moist and tender chicken cutlets in a wonderfully balanced sauce of lemon and butter.

In their tradition of Italian authenticity, decaffeinated coffee is not available, only straight-up espresso and cappuccino ($2.99/$3.99). For dessert, you can have vanilla gelato topped with a shot of hot espresso ($4.95) or with Italian frutti di bocso liqueur ($6.95). We chose tirami su ($4.95), which in their arrangement was a bounty of whipped lightness on top, mascarpone predominating, of course, and all the lady fingers on the bottom generously soaked with espresso.

Milanese chef/proprietor Pirrò, in a leisurely conversation afterward, said that he didn’t want to run another restaurant, as he has in California, Las Vegas, and elsewhere; too much work and too much demand for inauthentic dishes. (The menu declares: “We do not have: Swiss cheese, American cheese, pepperoni, meatballs. Grazie.”)

But two nights a week are not too much with brother-in-law Massimo Dellolio as sous chef, Josh Stiness helping them, and daughter Lara Pirrò waiting tables, even though every day they are baking bread, making pasta, handing items over the deli counter and preparing those gourmet grinders. That truffle-scented beef appetizer mentioned above is among those sandwiches, for $9.95, and tuna carpaccio once found its way there for only $8.50.

As the Italian Corner did six months ago, many a restaurant started out as a gourmet shop or meat market. In Providence, the late, lamented L’Epicureo is a prominent example.

But that expansion into opulence was a cautionary tale. Let’s hope that Chef Osvaldo and his amiable crew never take on so much work that they stop having fun. Although we may never get more than a two-night window to dine there, we can always get a sopressata and provolone grinder to whet our appetites on the other days.

Bill Rodriguez can be reached atbill@billrod.com.

On the Web
Italian Corner: italiancorner-ri.com