As some of you know, today I left on my road trip from Brooklyn down to central Tennessee, with a stopover in Harrisonburg. To issue all my caveats up front, I am a native NY-er, I lived in Italy for a spell, and I love to cook Italian food, so I am a real brat when it comes to my italian food palate. But this place was great, even independently of its very non-ethnic locale.
Immediately upon sitting down, olive oil was drizzled onto a plate and then sprinkled with freshly ground pepper, accompanied by fresh bread with just a hint of garlic and spices. The wine list is formidable and completely affordable (especially coming from NY), and the owner tastes and buys all the wines himself, and clearly has very diverse oenocultural interests: just about every wine-making nation was represented.
I ordered linguine alla vongole, and while the name of it was butchered to pieces by my very sweet waitperson, the dish itself was surprisingly satisfying: while the pasta could have been more al dente, the sauce was teeming with chopped and whole very tender clams and garlic, with just enough white wine to make the sauce interesting. The parmesan was fresh from a zyliss round grater, and with a few shakes of red pepper flakes, the dish was extremely satisfying.
Despite being full, I decided to try their special dessert, a "frutti de bosco" (fruit of the woods) tart. Again, to my surprise, the berries were tart and fresh, and the custard cream was actually mascarpone cheese, which I love more than just about anything. The funny thing was that it was served with "whipped topping" and a maraschino cherry - what kind of an audience are they catering to, I wonder?
All in all the bill came to less than $25, including a generous glass of a Chilean white that was perfectly chilled and very easy on the palate. On my way back six weeks from now, I might even consider coming back - who'd a thunk it?