A taste of Rome comes to Elm Street
Campo Enoteca is one of the newest additions to the dining scene in downtown Manchester. The restaurant, which serves contemporary Roman cuisine, is owned by Edward Aloise and his wife, Claudia Rippee, the same husband-and-wife team that runs nearby European-style Republic.
We had such a great experience at Republic in April 2012 we were confident we’d have the same high-quality, delicious meal at Campo Enoteca, and we were right.
We entered the restaurant/wine bar (located on Elm Street near Amherst Street and a block down from its sister restaurant), and despite it being a busy night, were greeted immediately. To our left at the front were several tables, a few situated right in front of the window facing Elm Street. Straight ahead was a long bar at which several diners were eating and a few tables toward the back of the restaurant. The décor is reminiscent of an Italian cafe.
The hostess asked where we wanted to sit. It was a bit loud in the front of the house, and I’m not a fan of sitting at a bar to eat dinner if I don’t have to, so we chose to sit at one of the few tables in the back.
Campo Enoteca stands apart from other city establishments through its menu alone. You can choose from “tastings” of prepared meats and cheeses, various small plates, a selection of crostinis or many fresh pasta dishes. The menu is small in comparison to other places we’ve visited recently, but both of us still wrestled over what to have.
The wine list offers several choices of reds and whites, served by the bottle and the glass. We admit our limited knowledge of Italian wines, and our server graciously took her time to help us choose. We were both pleased with her recommendations.
After the all-important wine order was placed, I mulled my options. After scanning the antipasti menu, and being tempted by the Buffalo Mozzarella ($15) and Housemade Ricotta served warm with olive oil ($9), I decided to try the crostini ($12). You can choose up to three topping options out of six. My plate was comprised of the grilled mushroom, duxelle and herb ricotta; organic chicken liver pate and Gorgonzola, fig jam, balsamic reduction.
All three varieties were full of flavor and perfectly seasoned; the crostini also retained its crispness as I took the time to try each one. The chicken liver was buttery smooth and pleasantly spicy. I also enjoyed the meatiness of the grilled mushrooms. The gorgonzola, fig jam and balsamic presented a nice balance of savory and sweet.
The Dining Companion ordered Charcuterie ($15), a selection of thinly sliced Italian meats comprising bresaola, porketta and speck. Bresaola, an air-dried salted beef, is aged for two or three months. TDC said it had a bit of sweetness to it and an interesting texture, dry, but not overly so. In contrast, the porketta is a moist and fatty pork with a light pinkish color and, TDC noted, a texture more like a thin slice of turkey than ham. The speck had striations of fat through the meat, looking something like a darker-red bacon. Its flavor was akin to a high-quality ham, only drier and not as salty. It was a nice start to the meal.
We were both in the mood for pasta, and no pasta is better than fresh, which is a specialty of the house at Campo Enoteca.
I have tried several “carbonara-style” dishes but never had a true, expertly prepared carbonara. It was worth the wait. The Classic Roman Carbonara, (half portion, $11/full portion, $18) made with bucatini (spaghetti-like pasta with a hole in the middle), Parmesan, guanciale, local eggs, black pepper and parsley, was decadent with a silky smooth sauce and tender pasta.
Given the ingredients, it could have easily been a heavy dish, but it was surprisingly light. I especially liked the saltiness of the guanicale, an Italian-cured meat that offset the richness of the eggs and cheese. I got the half-order but still had enough to bring home. I liked having the choice of deciding how much to order, but it was so good I regretted not ordering the full portion.
For his entrée, TDC ordered the Radiatore Arrabiata ($9/$14). Radiatore is a small and squat pasta that derives its name from its radiator-like shape; arrabiata is a sauce made from chili peppers, tomato, and garlic. TDC was offered grated cheese at the table as well. TDC ordered the larger portion, which was a more-than-generous helping. The first thing that hit the TDC’s palate was the spice, which is surprisingly strong. TDC is a huge fan of spicy food so it was a welcome surprise. The chili pepper taste that shone through the tomato was flavorful, but not overpowering.
We arrived at Campo Enoteca toward the end of their dining hours, so unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to try a dessert (nor were we offered one. Usually if we are late we are given the opportunity to order a desert before the kitchen closes). Given how delicious the rest of the meal was, we were definitely disappointed.
While sitting in the back was more conducive to conversation, in retrospect we would have gotten a better feel for the atmosphere of the place if we had sat closer to the front. But still, from where we sat, you could tell from the animated sounds that diners were having a good time. We also noticed that a number of people that were there when we got there were still there when we left. The comfortable vibe of Campo Enoteca is no doubt responsible for people taking their time, as we did, and staying until close.
If you are in the mood for something a little different, and want the quality that the owners of Republic and now Campo Enoteca are becoming known for, you’ll want to stop by the next time you’re planning dinner downtown.