Italian Food is the Antidote to Holiday Feasts...Unless You're Italian?

As my parents and I struggled to recover from the feasting of Thanksgiving a couple weeks back, we searched our brains for somewhere…different…to eat in Watertown. Ordinarily, Italian food would seem same old, same old, but after several days of butternut squash, roasted meats, pies, pumpkin crunch and gravy, anything including red sauce seemed fresh and novel. Enter: Cavallario’s Cucina, that Watertown stalwart that’s a lot hipper than you might think.

I am always impressed by the interior design at Cavallario’s. It’s so attractive, with none of that leftover from the sixties red vinyl booth and checked tablecloth nonsense so embraced at other establishments of its ilk. All the different dining areas at Cavallario’s are contemporary, with fun prints of fat Italian waiters, wrought iron details and rich colors. The fresh herb centerpiece on the table didn’t hurt, either.

These almost fooled me into thinking it’s summer! Eh, not quite.

Our waitress tempted us with the promise of a house-made lemon garlic romano dressing for our salads, and we all bit. That promise was fulfilled with crunchy romaine, tomatoes that again, defied the season with their sweetness, cucumbers, bell pepper and the lip-smacking dressing, which was tart with lemon but rounded out by a balanced hit of cheese. Our only other starter, complimentary bread (it wasn’t an appetizer kind of night, but I’m sure that pesto artichoke brie is dynamite) was outstanding. Adorned with fresh parsley and gobs of garlic butter, the bread was fine textured but not crumbly, due to a substantially crunchy exterior. It absolutely melted in my mouth, and it was challenge to keep myself to two pieces.

Who baked you, little wonder?

As I said, I had overloaded on rich holiday foods the previous day, and was feeling the will of my recent eggplant obsession tugging at my tummy, so I went with a special: seared tuna with eggplant caponata. The first taste was gorgeous: bright, peppery olive oil right up front, then the earthy, almost bitter eggplant, followed by perfectly fresh tuna left rare in the middle. The leeks and excellent quality kalamata, pit-in; olives in the caponata brought up the rest of the flavor profile like champs. If I had one small complaint, it would be that while the flavor on the fish was excellent and it was cooked well, the piece was so thick, it ended up being stringy towards the middle where it was more rare. In a thinner piece of fish, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but with this hunka tuna, it was a little challenging.

Big tuna

Dad ordered the braciole, which is a thin steak rolled up, usually with breadcrumbs, cheese and herbs. This was an old favorite at Giovanni’s, and these days I love to order it at Oak’s Inn in Endicott. Cavallario’s is stuffed with mushrooms and feta, a cool twist, and served over capellini, in a pomodoro sauce. This was luscious. While not as tender as other iterations I’ve enjoyed, the pomodoro sauce was enriched with the flavor of the meat and cheese, and the feta lent a pungent, salty note to the sweet sauce and earthy mushrooms. A successful dish, indeed.

Pronounced: Bra-zhool

Mom, of course, is our simple food lover, and went with the linguine and pomodoro sauce. The linguine was al dente and the sauce as a good, earthy, chunky tomato sauce. The meatballs that came with this entrée were super tender and well-seasoned. They sure beat any meatball I’ve ever made. Maybe being of Romanian and German descent does not a master meatballer make?

Simple pasta, simple sauce

We could not have been happier with the change-up this meal offered to our holiday weekend, or with the laid-back but still classy atmosphere dinner here afforded us. I give Cavallario’s Cucina a 7.5 on the BHS scale. While my fish and Dad’s beef could have been more tender, the flavors were all there and popping, the service was top notch, and the cuisine was just outside the norm enough to be really refreshing. If you’re in town to do some holiday shopping in the next few weeks, stop by CC for dinner and test it for yourself. Don’t miss the dressing.

I’m mapping out my posts for the rest of the year. Ahhhh! I can’t believe it’s so close! My BHS Awards will be happening soon, and I have a great brunch recommendation in NNY for you to try. If you’re craving more BHS, drop in on our Facebook group or follow me on Twitter @BigHungryShelby. My personality is big, my hunger is bigger!

PS: My nephew is here! Behold, my precious:

He is one of the best things ever. Like seriously, right up there with bacon, green chile sauce, pork belly, Sephora, little blue boxes and naps. I am smitten.

Cavallario's Cucina on Urbanspoon

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