At home up in Watertown last weekend, I talked my mother out of cooking and into dining out. Shocking, I know. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I went into PR was to learn how to manipulate my loved ones into eating where I want?
We settled on dinner at one of the newer restaurants dotting Watertown’s landscape: Restaurante de Ricardo, on Arsenal St. This joint, formerly an Indian restaurant, and before that, a Jean’s Beans, got some good early buzz from the Watertown Daily Times, but I haven’t heard much in the way of word of mouth recommendations. It’s owned by the guy who used to run the dining scene at the Best Western on Washington St, and his name is Dick Alexander, which is how we’ve arrived at Ricardo’s. But enough about provenance, let’s talk food!
Our waiter, who was exceptional, suggested a special starter of roasted garlic to begin our meal. I make roasted garlic all the time, and don’t usually get super fired up about it, but his description was intriguing, and I’m so glad we submitted to the power of his suggestion. He brought us out a sizzling cast iron dish of oil and whole garlic cloves, mashed the garlic up with a giant fork, then drizzled in some balsamic vinegar. He gave the concoction one more mash before dramatically sprinkling in some parmesan cheese. I always enjoy a tableside presentation, especially when it begets something as delicious and sweet as this jazzed up bread topper.
Dad went for the bolognese sauce over rigatoni, which is Mr. Alexander’s recipe, according to our server. The sauce was fantastic – spicy and robust, without the muddy, heavy flavor so many Bolognese sauces fall victim to. The meatballs, adorning all our plates, were killer. These tightly-packed, finely-ground beauties were juicy, just barely smoky, and had a nice, salty, minerally flavor that almost made me think there might be a little liver in the mix. But it could have just been veal? Whatever it is, it’s fabulous.
Mama chose the penne alfredo, which was the weakest dish to hit the table, but still pretty good. The sauce was creamy and smooth, but I found it a bit bland. Alfredo really needs to be made with high-quality, fresh parmigiano cheese, and I’m betting this was a cream sauce base with either domestic parmesan or maybe even an imitation parmesan-flavored cheese mixed it. It was not only lacking the salty, nutty tang you get with parmigiano, but also the slightly grainy texture it lends to a sauce. That said, Mom liked it, and she probably would have noted what a picky grump I am, if she wasn’t so nice.
I set my sights on the lasagna, and was treated to a very unique spin on what’s usually a hearty, wintry Italian casserole. Ricardo’s lasagna is light and loose, bathed in a bright, herbaceous red sauce screaming with oregano and basil. A couple of those delightful meatballs came along for the ride. And the portion size on this dish was perfect – not overwhelmingly large, but still enough to bring some leftovers home.
We let Dad be the maverick and order dessert, which we all tasted. Italian crème cake put its lemony foot forward, and really drove home the cream in its name. It’s soft and light, not too much to handle after a hearty meal, and even the cake layers managed to be creamy. I don’t think I’ve ever described a cake as creamy before, but this was.
I have more notes, of course. First off, not only were both red sauces outstanding, but every bite of pasta delivered to our table was cooked perfectly, al dente. On the downside, while the décor has been refreshed and is overall cute, the plastic, checkered, picnic-style tablecloths really distracted from the fine dining feel I wanted to derive from the service and the food. Cloth coverings for the tables would go a long way in helping the ambiance, as would dispensing with the Neil Diamond snoozak in favor of classical or less obtrusive tunes. Luckily, our funny, engaging waiter, and the excellent food made up for those small distractions. We awarded Ricardo’s a seven on the BHS scale, wondering why this place isn’t busier. It may be because people don’t trust a restaurant located in such close proximity to a hotel, or because this location has housed so many other businesses in the past. Or it may be due to the limited menu. While there are pasta, chicken, beef, and seafood dishes on the menu, you won’t find pizza here. I’ve known Watertown eaters to be pretty old school about what they want from their Italian dinners: pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. While Ricardo’s may not have pizza, I assure you, their meatballs are divine, and their red sauce is fresh and delicious – so give it a try!
One of my favorite food bloggers, Kristin at Iowa Girl Eats, is on her babymoon in Charleston this week, and I’m having so much fun reading her tweets and posts. Check her out, here: http://iowagirleats.com/ Yesterday, she had lunch at Poogan’s Porch, which I enjoyed in September, and tonight she’s doing dinner at Husk, one of the top five meals I ate last year.
If you’re in Watertown, try Ricardo’s, and report back here, I dare ya! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!