Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Spoleto

If you're looking for a more upscale dining option, Spoleto in Northampton, Mass at 50 Main St. (also with a location in East Longmeadow, Mass) offers a rather impressive option (not valid on Holiday or graduation weekends) of three courses, which includes your choice of appetizer, entree and dessert for just $20. The inside of the restaurant is dimly-lit and undeniably romantic, so if you're looking for a great date location, this place is a must. There is a red glow that's flattering on anyone that will certainly set the mood.

But of course, the most important thing is the menu, which offers a variety of options. From the appetizer category, try the fried or grilled calamari, both of which are tender and cooked to perfection, the phyllo ravioli which are baked and stuffed with smoked chicken breast, spinach, red onion and goat cheese and finished with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce, or, for a $5 up-charge, the orange basil scallops which are pan seared with an apricot bell pepper confit, served atop an orange basil beurre blanc. All of these are a great way to start off your meal.

In terms of the entree category, there is a wide variety to choose from. From the classic ravioli ala vodka, to the pecan salmon encrusted in pecans and glazed with an apricot sauce, the menu offers something for everyone. For a $7 up-charge guests can enjoy other main dishes such as cioppino chock full of fresh seafood in a saffron broth, black peppercorn encrusted duck breast, and grilled filet mignon.

To some, the entree is not the main event's the course that comes after, and a Spoleto dessert will not disappoint. Whether you're in the mood for something light, like the mixed berry sorbet, or something decadent, like the tiramisu or the flourless chocolate espresso torte, any of the desserts are sure to finish off an already delicious meal with success.

Overall the food at Spoleto is inspired and executed with great technique, and right now three gourmet courses for $20 is pretty hard to beat.

*All of Spoleto's menus are available at their website listed above.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: SOUPerBOWL

The Souper Bowl of 96 North Pleasant St. Amherst, Mass is not one of the town's most sophisticated establishments. A clever concept and name, however, attracts both soup and sports fans alike. Inside there are a few tables, booths and some raised, bench-like seating that runs the length of the main wall with tall tables to match. Of course, several big-screen TVs are there to project any and all of the games that might be on during the hours of operation. They offer several board games to play after you've ordered your food at the walk-up counter located in the back (my guest tried to teach me the basics of chess while we waited for our food), but you can only hope that playing one of them will put you in a great mood, because the food certainly will not.

After a long day and very little food, we were pretty hungry. So, we both ordered a bread bowl of soup and a panini. The broccoli and cheddar soup was overly salted and had an almost burnt taste to it as though it had been sitting in a warmer for far too long. There were no big chunks of broccoli, which I had hoped for in order to give the soup some heartiness and texture, the "cheddar" aspect of the soup was barely detectable and the bread bowl was cold, like it had just come out of the refrigerator, and stale.

Then there was the panini issue. Now I understand that the place is heavily geared towards soup, but it's pretty hard to mess up a panini. The panini that I ordered was simple: tomato, basil and mozzarella. The main problem was the bread...burnt to a crisp. They had literally blackened one side of the bread, so, instead of simply making it over with two more pieces of bread, they decided to hide the problem by turning the bread upside down, covering the burnt parts with the tomatoes, basil and cheese and topping the sandwich with the other burnt piece of bread, which was also turned upside down. Because the bread was so burnt, it wouldn't absorb any of the juices from the tomatoes or the mozzarella, making the panini an utter mess to eat. There was liquid pouring out from every end and it was impossible to even bite into it because the bread was too thick and, as I mentioned before, burnt to a rock-hard texture. The meal, to say the least, was not enjoyable.

Overall, they offer average food that could be executed with much more care and sold at much lower prices. But don't let the name fool you, because if you're looking for a "touchdown" meal, Souper Bowl is not the place to go.