We heard about Trattoria Amalfi from a co-worker of The Dining Companion, who told her that while it may not be the biggest or best known Italian restaurant in Salem, for his money, it's the best.
After checking it out for ourselves, we'll be happy to accept any other recommendations this guy wants to make.
We've had a good run of luck with Italian restaurants in the last year or so, from Ciao Pasta in Franklin to Nonni's in New London to Del Rossi's in Dublin. All have been terrific, and Amalfi may be the best we've encountered yet.
It's not a big place, located in one of the dozens of small strip malls that line the frenetic retail stretch that is Route 28. A large horseshoe-shaped bar is to the left of the lobby, the main dining room to the right. The decor screams Mediterranean, from the white stucco walls to the land- and seascape murals. Tables for four are in the center of the room, surrounded by booths recessed into alcoves making for private dining hideaways.
The place was packed when we arrived, but we were seated quickly, despite not having reservations on a busy holiday weekend night. In fact, we got the last open table. Service was reasonably paced, considering the crowd, and our server, Danielle, was very friendly and well versed on the menu.
When we got our menus, I quickly made my decisions and was proud of my decisiveness. That efficiency bubble was burst, however, when TDC pointed out that I had missed the third and fourth pages of the menu. I looked, to be on the safe side, but I stood pat with my original choices.
TDC's appetizers was the first indication that her colleague's recommendation was on the money. TDC's Eggplant Rolantini ($8.95) featured three long slices of eggplant, breaded and sauteed and then folded over a stuffing of ricotta and romano cheeses. It would have been excellent unsauced, but it was even better with the fresh marinara over the top.
I ordered a Caprese salad ($8.95), if only to see if it would be better than the versions we make at home. To be honest, it wasn't. This was the only disappointment of the night, but a minor one to be sure. The fresh mozarella and typical out-of-season tomatoes needed more seasoning than the virgin olive oil and herbs could muster. A splash of balsamic vinegar would have helped.
But no matter, for our dinner was already off to a rousing start when our entrees arrived. TDC ordered Chicken Sorrentino ($17.95). The large, oval plate contained three chicken cutlets, pounded thin then egg battered and sauteed, layered with prosciutto, breaded eggplant and mozzarella, topped with a light tomato sauce and served over pasta (your choice of linguine, spaghetti or penne). TDC was in awe after the first bite — the juicy chicken, combined with crispy saltiness of the prosciutto and the creamy mozzarella was a fantastically savory combination. I seconded her assessment with the couple of samples she generously shared.
And my entree was just as good. I ordered the Sun-Dried Tomato Ravioli ($18.95) — a generous plate of dark red ravioli, stuffed with a ricotta mixture and served with two large shrimp and two large sauteed scallops. The ravioli were delicious, topped with a pink Sambuca sauce that was thick, creamy and lightly flavored by the anise liqueur, just begging to be mopped up with bread before the plates could be taken away.
The desserts, presented by tray rather than menu, were equally delicious. My Limoncello mascarpone torte ($6.95) was cake with a pronounced bright flavor of the lemon liqueur, frosted with the mascarpone and with a bit of shaved white chocolate over the top. It was sweet, refreshing and delicious; as light as a cake could possibly be.
Speaking of light, that's not an adjective you'd typically apply to a big wedge of cheesecake topped with caramel and drizzled with a thick fudge sauce. But that's exactly what TDC's Turtle cheesecake ($6.95) was. The trick was in the cheesecake filling, which was richly flavored but fluffy (think whipped cream cheese rather than the brick). It was fantastic.
We often write that we'll go back to a restaurant we're reviewing, but in reality, there have been very few times we've returned to a place; budgets and schedules rarely allow it. But not only is Amalfi one of those places we'd return to, in fact, TDC has already done so, having converted her entire office crew into Amalfi fans by virtue of a big takeout order one recent evening when everyone had to work late.
But since I wasn't party to that order, and all I got was a meager serving of leftovers barely big enough for lunch, I am pretty confident in saying that we'll be heading back to Amalfi at least one more time.