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Our Gourmet: Too long without a feast at Fratello's in Manchester

155 Dow St., Manchester, NH

Returning to Fratello's in Manchester after a lengthy absence reminds one of slipping into a comfortable cardigan on a chilly winter afternoon. It is predictable, warm, comfortable and pleasing for all the right reasons.

We had not been to Dow Street in some years, and we were quite pleased to see basically the same menu and a familiar feel to our surroundings. There are multiple seating options downstairs by the brick ovens and food preparation area, or elsewhere in the large downstairs dining room, and still more cozy seating upstairs in the lounge, complete with couches, and the upper dining area. Booths are available downstairs, and variable-sized tables on both floors.

Ambiance

It is rich in aroma and warm underfoot in the renovated mill building that houses this comfy Italian grille, and lively upstairs when the local sports teams are playing. But even so, upstairs can be relaxing and private for couples who want to keep an eye on the game but enjoy a full-course Italian meal quietly.

It is friendly and homey, and leads to a leisurely dining experience.

Waitstaff

It didn't seem busy the weeknight we visited, but it must have been so elsewhere, perhaps in the banquet rooms, or the house must have been a bit short on help. We enjoy a leisurely meal, but it seemed unusual to wait so long for drinks and menus. Then, it was another delay while our server retrieved her list of specials from another server, and then again it seemed to take too long to see her again for requests and place our orders.

The pace was enjoyable at the beginning, but dragged a bit as our meal progressed. No unusual waiting for our food once ordered, however, and it arrived piping hot and well-prepared.

Food

I cannot go to Fratello's without ordering Fratello's Calamari ($11.99) an appetizer menu item but a full meal for most. Breaded rings of calamari sauteed with cherry peppers, lemon butter, garlic, basil and white wine served over a bed of warm linguini, this is a signature dish, and requests for extra spice come nicely loaded with more than the usual hot cherry peppers, which are not very spicy, and entirely tolerable.. More peppers add more flavor that lingers through the seafood and pasta, and to my mind completes the dish.

Those who aren't calamari fans should give it another chance, and should do so at Fratello's. There are no tentacles or other unsavory-looking parts, simply rings of calamari, breaded and delicious.

Across the table, Seafood Sophia ($21.99) was an outstanding entree, loaded with seafood that is cooked with mushrooms and tomatoes in a lobster cream sauce served over pasta with fresh scallions. Hefty portions of Maine lobster, large scallops, shrimp, and Prince Edward Island mussels combine with the creamy pasta to create a memorable dish. The serving is quite large, allowing for a fine leftover meal to take home

With the size of the appetizer and a couple of small salads, we didn't need second entree but we plunged ahead and shared a Veal Veneto ($22.99), knowing we'd have a good amount of food for lunch or dinner the next day. Veal Veneto was a simple dish, with sauteed tender veal layered with lobster, spinach and fontina, topped with garlic cream sauce. Very filling, and an interesting combination of meat and seafood — the lobster was in large chunks, mixed in with good-sized portions of sliced veal that was as tender as advertised.

We also sampled a small-sized Caesar and House salad, both bargains at $2.50 each. The House version featured a fresh bounty of lettuce and tomatoes and grated carrots, cheese, onions and croutons, while the Caesar version was much simpler, with romaine and sliced parmesan under a very light Caesar dressing. Very light, indeed, was the dressing, and it could have used more spice and body, and no anchovies offered (but we received some after asking).

There is a huge selection of salad dressings and pasta sauces on the menu, and entrees of chicken, steak, veal, seafood and pasta, along with antipasti, appetizers, pizza, soup and sandwiches could leave no hungry patron wanting. And with eight different pasta sauces, there is more than one can (or should) sample in a week.

For dessert, which we could not attempt this night, we have our tastes set on Apple Crisp or Pumpkin Cheesecake ($6.99 each) when we return.

And return we will; we cannot, and will not, wait so long before our next visit to the Millyard and a wonderful gourmet Italian dinner, a la Fratello's.


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