Mambo Italiano

Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” was emanating from the sound system when we walked into Catarina’s Italian Village; it made me think of her nephew, actor George Clooney, …

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Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” was emanating from the sound system when we walked into Catarina’s Italian Village; it made me think of her nephew, actor George Clooney, who has a villa in Italy. I think the Clooney family would approve of the authentic Italian food at Catarina’s.

The music only got better during our dinner there – Louis Prima, Jerry Vale, Lou Monte, Frank Sinatra. It brought back a lot of memories of my growing up in an Italian-American home and the wonderful Italian restaurants we used to frequent.

Catarina’s was established in Narragansett in 2006 by Antonio Mollo and his family. They also own the original Italian Village in Wakefield, which opened in 1976. Both restaurants are known for their old family recipes such as Grandma Francesca’s Old World Red Sauce.

The menu at Catarina’s is quite extensive with plenty of options in each category, from appetizers to entrees. All the basic Italian dishes that you expect to see are on that menu, plus more. A basket of sliced Italian bread was the first thing to land on our table. According to the menu, the bread is baked fresh daily in a hearth stone oven on the premises.

My dining companion decided to try the prix-fixe menu, which offered a choice of soup or salad, a choice of entree and dessert (all for $18.95), while I went the conventional menu route.

There are three soups ($4.95 for a bowl): Chicken Escarole, Pasta e Fagioli and Minestrone. My dining companion chose the Minestrone, which means “big soup” in Italian. This hearty vegetable soup was all that it should have been, thick with chopped vegetables in a tomato broth.

I chose the most exotic appetizer listed, a dish that was new to me, and it proved to be a very wise choice. I adored the Cape Sante Shrimp ($10.95) and would be hard pressed not to order it again and again. Served in a large soup dish, eight medium-sized shrimp swam in a pesto cream sauce, garnished with sliced black olives. Shrimp, pesto, cream, olives – these are ingredients that I crave. Making it even more appealing were three slices of that house-baked Italian bread smeared with pesto, begging to be dunked into the cream sauce. The combination of these flavors and textures was the highlight of my dinner at Catarina’s, and we had just begun. My only complaint is that since I devoured every shrimp, every olive, every bit of bread soaking in cream sauce, it was a real challenge to eat everything else that we ordered.

Next came a Small Antipasto ($8.95), which we shared. I was pleasantly surprised to see that instead of the usual iceberg lettuce, this antipasto was built upon a Mediterranean spring salad. Mixed baby field greens were topped with paper-thin slices of peppers, onions, capicola, Genoa salami and tiny cubes of sharp provolone.

For the main course, my dining companion selected one of the fresh fish dishes, a healthy serving of scrod over sauteĢed greens and tender cannellini (white kidney beans) in an aromatic broth. Delicious, although it was a bit heavy on the beans and greens and light on the fish.

Every imaginable Italian dish is on Catarina’s menu, from Lobster Ravioli to Veal Zingarella, but I chose to order Pasta al Forno, pasta from the oven. With the Forno Combination ($13.95), I was served one manicotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, one stuffed shell filled with ricotta and one stuffed shell filled with ground beef and ricotta. This was served in a large soup dish with so much of Grandma Francesca’s Old World Red Sauce that I could not differentiate the manicotti from the stuffed shells. It all tasted like the excellent Italian food I grew up on.

Of course, being mad about meatballs, I just had to order a couple of Grandma Francesca’s Meatballs ($2.50 for two). This is how I judge Italian restaurants. If the meatballs are good (and these were very good), then the place gets a thumbs up from me. Solid and firm, packed mostly with meat, tender to the bite and not overcooked – these were bathed in more of that Old World Sauce. They were perfect.

On another night, we tried one of Catarina’s gourmet pizzas. I ordered something rather unusual, the Carbonara Pizza ($10.95), topped with finely chopped crisp bacon, herbs and cheese. No red sauce in sight. And again, as I adored the Cape Sante Shrimp, I fell in love with this salty, savory 10-inch round pizza. I only wish it had been bigger.

My dining companion ended his prix-fixe dinner with one of two desserts offered: the chocolate mousse, served in a glass dish with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Not very Italian, but a sweet ending to a pleasant and satisfying dinner.

Catarina’s Italian Village is housed in a rustic log cabin. Tables for two and four fill the small dining area, which also has a small fireplace, aglow the night we were there. Pub-height tables can be found in the bar area. On busy nights, a loft with additional seating is put to good use. Italian posters decorate the walls. When we were there, the flat-screen television sets were showing an Italian travelogue with aerial views of the Amalfi Coast, verdant Tuscan vineyards and Rome. The food, the aromas and the sights brought back so many memories of growing up in an Italian home. Bellissimo!

Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.