Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: Crispi's Italian Cuisine

Crispi's Italian Cuisine of 136 Broad St. (Route 18) in Bridgewater, Mass is a nice place to go for a night out with your significant other. But notice, I didn't say a quiet night out, because once you step inside the restaurant, it's anything but. It's a classic representation of a loud, Italian family style dinner, and because it was packed the night we went, I felt like I was enjoying just that. So if you're looking for a quiet place, don't go to Crispi's. If you don't mind the boisterous noise that comes along with any Mediterranean, family-style restaurant, then definitely make an appoint to go, because it's well worth it. We went on a Thursday night and, purely by chance, we got lucky. Thursdays are half price wine night, where every wine on the list is half off. Thanks to this special, which we didn't know about, we were able to enjoy two $10+ glasses of wine, for about $10 total.

Now, on to the food. They started off the meal, like any good Italian restaurant does, with warm bread and oil to dip it in. The oil was so-so, but it had nothing on the garlic rosemary oil that they give you at Bertucci's. Still, it was a nice way to start out the meal. We decided to share an appetizer and a salad, so we got the seafood stuffed mushrooms ($7) and the fresh mozzarella and plum tomato salad ($9). The mushrooms were nicely seasoned and very tender and the seafood stuffing was light and very flavorful. The salad was almost a classic caprese, but they were skimpy on the fresh basil and there was no balsamic or any other dressing on the salad itself. Just a side of balsamic vinaigrette which tasted like it was from a bottle. It was still good, with very fresh tomatoes, but it just wasn't executed as well as it could have been for a $9 price tag.

For dinner we decided to split an entree also. We decided on the Chicken Crispino ($15), described as "a boneless breast of chicken with our homemade stuffing, prosciutto and mozzarella, topped with bacon and rosemary in a mushroom and Marsala wine sauce". All of the entrees come with pasta, and we had been looking forward to the homemade gnocchi the entire time, only to find out that they unfortunately didn't have any more left, so we decided on the homemade cheese ravioli instead.

The dinner was good, but wasn't exactly what we were expecting. The chicken was tender and flavorful, but the stuffing was more mushy than anything. It didn't really have any texture and you definitely couldn't distinctly taste the prosciutto or the mozzarella. The sauce did make up for the lack of flavor in the stuffing, however. It had a very rich red wine flavor, and the mushrooms were cooked nicely. Some of the bacon was a little bit fatty, not cooked completely crisp, which in combination with the wet sauce did not have the most pleasing mouth texture. But the fresh rosemary, which was used a bit too sparingly in my opinion, along with all of the other flavors, really tied the entire dish together. I only had one bite with a fresh rosemary leaf, but let me tell you that one bite was delicious because the rosemary complemented everything and it also consisted of a nicely cooked bite of bacon to go along with the stuffed chicken. Although the sauce was good overall, it could have been plated with a slightly lighter hand, because the chicken was basically swimming in it. Overall though, the Crispini was a pretty good, very rich and filling dish.

I had thought that the ravioli were going to be served on the plate with the chicken, in that sauce, as spaghetti would be with a parmigiana. Instead, there were four ravioli total, and they were served in a tiny bowl with a scoop of watery, over seasoned marinara. The ravioli that came with the dish was at best average. The pasta was fine, but it was a bit overcooked and the filling lacked flavor. The dried oregano in the sauce was used in excess, and combined with the watery tomato texture, the flavor was way too strong. Definitely not worth the $3 up charge that we paid for the homemade pasta.

Overall, the food at Crispi's was pretty good. I would definitely go back again to sample some of their other menu items and I would definitely recommend going on a Thursday night, because you can't beat the half price option for their entire wine list which is very extensive.

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

Review: Tailgate Picnic

Tailgate Picnic of 7 College St., South Hadley, Mass is one of those places that you don't really appreciate until you're a little bit more grown up. As a kid, I grew up in South Hadley, but never really felt for Tailgate the way I do now. You could call it a love affair...and that would be putting it lightly. Tailgate is a part of the Village Commons which is basically the center of town and it's right across the street from Mt. Holyoke College. Most people that go there do so regularly, and the staff comes to know these "regulars" orders like the back of their hands.

Tailgate offers a variety of different breakfast and lunch sandwiches, as well as salads, soups and other specials. They also specialize in gourmet gift baskets, which can be ordered from their website and delivered. They have a wide selection of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well as all of the accompaniments that you might need to go along with your meal.
As a kid, I was a little bit picky about what I ate. So, every time I would go, which wasn't very often, I would get a salad with a scoop of tuna on it. It's your average, lighter-fare meal, with a garden salad of a few veggies and some romaine, topped with a scoop of tuna. Perfect if you're looking for a healthy meal, not so perfect if you don't want to be bored.

Thankfully, I smartened up in my old age. I sort of forgot about Tailgate for a while, and then as soon as I got my license, Tailgate became the place to go. That was when my love affair started. The Smoked Turkey sandwich is great. It's full of smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, and a garlic aioli. And, for the kids, I don't think I know a kid in South Hadley who hasn't gotten the Chicken Tenders Club at least one time in their life. It's warm breaded chicken tenders, bacon, American cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato all on a baguette and they just go crazy for it. My 17-year-old sister still orders this, nothing else. The grown up version of this sandwich is the Banker. It's the same chicken but this time with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and guacamole all in a wrap. They warm it up and it's a nice Mexican twist on a classic. I always used to get the Harvest. It's turkey, whole grain honey mustard, sharp yellow cheddar, and granny smith apples with romaine on any type of bread. It's healthy, with really sharp flavors, and it tastes great. But, I got kind of sick of it, so I decided to try something different.

The Sundried Tomatoes is fresh mozzarella, homemade pesto, and sundried tomatoes on a baguette, and it is, to this day, my go-to sandwich. Still, I change it up a bit. The sundried tomatoes they use are more like shoe leather than anything, so I omit them and ask for fresh tomatoes instead. I get it all on a rustic roll (code for a fresh ciabatta roll) and at $6.50 you can not go wrong. Their pesto is to die for...(try the pesto tortellini from the deli window as well). They lightly press the sandwich just enough to warm the bread through but not to melt the cheese. If they have caramelized onions that day, I always have them throw a few on for the perfect touch of sweetness. It's delicious, tastes like summer, and really fills you up.

They also offer different quiches, lasagnas, soups, chillis and even macaroni and cheese. The artichoke salad with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and fresh mozzarella is a great summertime salad that is light and full of great fresh flavor. And they just opened up their pastry window, which has a variety of great options from carrot cake, to a round chocolate torte with ganache and mousse and anything else chocolate you can imagine. It basically looks like a chocolate ball, and then the inside is full of different chocolate layers.

They have seating available inside as well as outside for the warmer months, and no matter what the occasion, you can always be sure that the food will be great, the atmosphere will be friendly, and the prices will be low. But be ready, because Tailgate may just become your new love affair as well.

Review: Amanouz Cafe

Catering, in my opinion, is a tough business. And it's named correctly because you have to do just that. You have to cater to the specific desires of the customers, cater to the tastes of the guests, cater to the distance and travel time, and even cater to the weather. Often times in the world of catering, no matter how good the food started out, after all the heating, cooling, reheating, and transportation, the food just isn't the same. So, if you're looking for a dynamite catering service and restaurant, look no further than Amanouz Cafe of 44 Main St. Northampton, Mass.

As a summer job, I work on a 49 passenger river cruise boat in South Hadley called the Lady Bea ( The boat offers daily cruises as well as private charters. At the end of June, we had a private charter for a wedding reception on the boat and the food was catered by Amanouz. Once the two hour cruise was finished, the couple was generous enough to offer the leftovers to the crew, myself included. And let me tell was our lucky day, because even after a 30 minute drive from Northampton to South Hadley, a boat full of people, and a two hour cruise, the food was still impeccable...a tough thing to accomplish in my book.

Specializing in Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, Amanouz offers a great selection of choices. Being half Greek, I already have a love for this type of food, so I was not shy and I dug right in. There was a salad that was light and healthy, full of different veggies and a lemony vinaigrette and topped with avocado slices that weren't even the slightest bit brown. The falafel were to die for; fried, but not greasy, drizzled with tahini, and perfectly green inside thanks to fresh herbs. I put them inside a fresh pita with some tomato, cucumber, and homemade babaghannoush, which was sweet and full of perfectly-seasoned eggplant, and made myself the perfect afternoon sandwich. The hummus was fresh, definitely homemade and boasted the flavors of Morocco with every bite. Also, there was a nice pita pizza, lightly topped with spinach and cheese, and a summery pasta dish with farfalle, fresh bocconcini, and grape tomatoes in olive oil.

The most impressive thing about all of the food that was brought in by Amanouz was the quality and freshness of the ingredients and the care and passion that was clearly put into all of the food that was offered. The fact that it was so fresh, flavorful, and beautiful, even after a long trip on the road and a cruise on the Connecticut River, shows just how good the chefs at Amanouz are at what they do.

I have never been to the actual restaurant before, but after sampling everything they have to offer in a catered setting, I can easily say that I'd stroll into their restaurant any day of the week, prepared to be even more impressed by the food, simply because of the fact that it was great even after the true test of catering.

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