David and Brandee Dallow, of westchesterfoodieonline.com, here to tell you all about Scaramella’s Ristorante in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
Neighborhood restaurants get a bum rap. The adjectives that generally spring to mind are “servicable” or “average”. Maybe if it’s particularly good it’ll rate a “solid”. That was exactly what I was thinking when FoodieWife and I pulled into the parking lot of Scaramella’s in Dobbs Ferry. My mind was filled with cliched images of red checked tableclothes and slightly off balance tables, decent if unexciting pastas and Italian staples like Chicken Parmesan and Veal Marsala. This idea was reinforced when we arrived and saw it occupied a corner of a small strip mall which included a Dunkin Donuts.
The moment I entered Scaramella’s I was forced to re-evaluate my expectations. I turned to FoodieWife and exclaimed (quietly), “Wait, this is nice.” A large, tiled bar area, the walls lined with wine bottles, gave way to an expansive, L shaped dining room. Wide plank, deep brown wood floors met beautifully finished, wainscoted walls. Windows were covered in soft, elegant treatments, a few walls sported murals depicting views of Italian vineyard from an arched portico. The servers moved about the room in tuxedos, a pleasant anachronism.
When we were handed the dinner menus I was thrilled to see burrata, which I love more than some of my relatives, listed as one of the appetizer options on the Restaurant Week menu. Not only was this a nice surprise, but the entire Restaurant Week special menu was well planned and composed, with classic dishes dressed up with interesting and original accompaniments. I scanned the menu, feeling that if I was reviewing Restaurant Week then, in fairness, I should try one of the RW offerings so I practically ignored the classically gruff and surly waiter when he brought a chalkboard of specials, along with a small amuse of bruschetta and Parmesan cheese.
It was fine, reeling me back in and reminding me of my expectations, solid but, OH MY GOD does that say Trippa Marinara on the specials board?! If burrata is the culinary equivalent of my first love then Trippa is my soulmate. Clearly this love of an old school Italian peasant dish met with our waiter’s approval because his brusque manner began to thaw.
It was quite good, creamy and soft, but would have benefitted from a hit of sea salt and some grilled bread. Burrata is a luxurious food and should have been treated slightly better. If the waiters can wear tuxedos then burrata could have been better dressed. That said, it was still delicious and I was still impressed at its presence on the menu.
Very impressive was FoodieWife’s appetizer of Portabella Balsamico. It was wholly different from what I’d envisioned, a whole cap of portabella, soaked with acidic vinegar and grilled. Not this iteration. This was thinly sliced mushroom seemingly stewed in a sauce with all the flavor of balsamic with just a hint of the acidity of vinegar, with equally soft tomatoes Parmesan cheese that was browned on top. It elicited a surprised, “Mmmmm!” from both of us. It was also quite large for an appetizer portion, even more so for an appetizer on a special, lower priced menu.
Our waiter, who at this point had completed his evolution from sullen to sunny, brought our entrees. FoodieWife ordered Veal Medallion Pasqulina, with hearts of palm and artichokes in a sauce of white wine and lemon. The word “medallion” evoked a thought of small loin chops, but was a misnomer. This large hunk of veal seemed to be a shoulder portion the had been beautifully braised and was meltingly tender. While the artichokes were not an unusual ingredient in a dish like this, the hearts of palm were a great addition. A side order of broccoli was sauteed with garlic and, without exaggeration, perfectly cooked. It was just a simple side order but we kept returning to how great it was.
My trippa arrived on not so much a plate as a platter. It had a delicate, perfumed aroma, more elegant than I’d expected in such a rustic dish. When I tucked into it I found the honeycombed chunks to be soft as pillows. Personally, I enjoy just a slight bit of bite to be left, but the dish didn’t suffer for not having it. What it could have used though, was some fresh herbs, like basil or mint, added at the end to awaken the long simmered flavors. That said, I nearly finished the entire enormous dish, a testament to how good it still was.
The accompanying side order of pasta was a low point, a cliched afterthought that was poorly sauced and bland, the failing of it only enhanced by the clear evidence, provided by the trippa, that the chef knew how to create a delicious, complex sauce. Luckily, having eaten my own bodyweight in trippa I didn’t need it anyway.
Our waiter asked about dessert, included in the cost of the Restaurant Week menu, but we were entirely too full. He was insistent, even asking if we wanted something to bring home. When we firmly refused he brought out a plate of fresh fruit.
The other guests, including a table next to us with visitors from Italy, all seemed to know someone, whether the chef or one of the servers. They all seemed like regulars. This got me thinking. Neighborhood restaurants, even those that would be described simply as solid, tend to have regulars. If one is to visit anywhere with regularity, and spend money there, then one clearly enjoys it. It needs to be a pleasant establishment that makes one happy. If you’re going to return to dine there, and pay for the privilege, then the food must be enjoyable. Perhaps my evaluation of Scaramella’s was correct but my expectations were wrong. Scaramella’s was, indeed, a neighborhood restaurant – in the very best sense of the phrase.