Thursday, December 9, 2010

Restaurant Review: Carmella's Italian Bistro, Appleton WI

Carmella's Italian Bistro
An intimate and authentic Italian ristorante in Appleton, WI!

Date of Visit: 12/4/10
Diners: Sarah, Natalie, Zach, Stefan, Matt & Kevin

You know when you walk into a restaurant and you immediately know there is something special about it? That’s how I felt when I entered Carmella’s in Appleton last weekend. The restaurant was nearly impossible to find and was sandwiched between a fabric and a battery store in a strip mall, yet it was completely packed. Hmmm, I thought, these clearly aren’t drive-by diners.
Our waiter Anthony came over to greet us and our table instantly liked him. You could tell he knew his stuff, describing the specials in detail with a passion, along with a slight Italian accent that only made him more believable. We later found out that Carmella is his grandmother, and she started the restaurant 75 years ago in New York City. They moved the restaurant to Appleton a couple years ago after her passing, and her children and grandchildren now run the shop.

We cozied up at a table and ordered a bottle of Sass Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) and the special Napoleon to start the meal. It was divine, a unique spin on caprese salad, with more flavor. Juicy yellow tomatoes were layered with fresh mozzarella and crispy prosciutto, drizzled with basil oil and balsamic. It was a perfect example of Italian cooking at its best due to the careful use of the finest ingredients.

I started with an arugula salad, and there was nothing ordinary about it. Baby arugula was lightly dressed in sherry vinaigrette and tossed with roasted figs, candied walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola. This is everything I love about a salad, delicate lettuce enhanced- not smothered- in a flavorful dressing, with a sweet, salty and crunchy component. Fantastic!

I am a sucker for housemade pasta. I see those words, and I gravitate toward it, no matter what. I ordered a simple and classic housemade ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with basil. Yes, this is a dish you can find on menus all over the country, but what a joy to eat it when made authentically Italian, with homemade pasta, ricotta, sauce and fresh basil. It literally melted in my mouth.

My dining companion Natalie ordered the Saltimbocca, the dish that Anthony said was the best on the menu. A light marsala sauce enhanced the chicken breast that was smothered in wilted spinach, fontina and prosciutto. Natalie was in heaven while enjoying this dish, and said it was one of the most amazing meals she’s ever had. I took a bite and the saltiness of the prosciutto blended perfectly with the creamy fontina, tender chicken and earthy spinach. Heavenly to be sure.

For dessert, authentic Italian espresso with a seasonal treat- pumpkin gelato over homemade chocolate cake with crème anglais and toasted pecans. It was heartwarming and cozy, bursting with the flavors of the season.

After finishing our meal, Natalie and I were so enamored over our food that we asked to meet the chef, Carmella’s son Larry. Chef Larry came over to our table looking a little unsure, but after a big hug from Natalie he was the happiest guy in the room! We thanked him for an unforgettable meal and he went back the kitchen with a smile on his face. His daughter came up to us afterward and said we made his night, and he couldn’t stop bragging to the boys in the kitchen!

Carmella’s was a meal that I will remember. The delicious food and family ambience immediately made me feel at home, like it was my long-last Italian family and grandmother’s treasured recipes. If you are ever near Appleton, Wisconsin, be sure and pay it a visit, enjoy an unforgettable authentic Italian meal, and thank Chef Larry for his fantastic cuisine. It may be hard to find, but it is worth every effort, as restaurants like this are a rarity and a treasure.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that definitely does not look like strip mall food. Good Read!