Amore Trattoria Italiana

(Comstock Park, MI) — For our second sampling of Grand Rapids Restaurant Week 2012, we headed to Amore Trattoria Italiana. We’ve been meaning to visit this establishment for quite some time—actually having to cancel reservations last-minute about a year ago, when SheFed’s plane didn’t arrive on time—so were excited to finally drop in. Although they were booked up until after 8p, we don’t mind a late dinner. We drove the few minutes north up Alpine and pulled in next to a seemingly small, windowless structure...

He Fed:

From the outside, Amore doesn’t look like much. It’s inside that counts, however, and the interior is much more spacious than expected. A dining room lies ahead past the host stand, while to the right is a bar area and a private room. Presumably because of Restaurant Week, the bar has been set up with more formal tables to accommodate the crowd of hungry patrons. We are immediately shown to a two-top and given water while we look at the menu. Our cheerful waitress is helpful, ticking off the night’s specials; when she learns we’re here for the special five course meal, she recommends we each pick a different choice so we can try everything. We take her advice, except I get the beer pairing option and Juliet opts for the wine pairing. As it turns out, $15 pairings produce generous pours!

Our first course is an appetizer. I’m presented the Zucchini Ripieno, zucchini stuffed with homemade Italian sausage topped with sun dried tomato pesto. The vegetable has been cooked perfectly, with hardly any mush factor. Meat is salty spicy, while the tomato brightens the whole bite. Wow! Off to a great start. We switch and I find the arancino one of the best—if not THE best—I’ve ever had. The crispy exterior is paper thin while inside is all creamy, cheesy goodness. I find these to be the perfect size to whet the appetite. Hungry for more!

Next is the salad course. Appropriately enough, I am given Caprese, two thick slices of heirloom tomato topped with slices of mozzarella, basil, sea salt, and Italian olive oil, all on a bed of greens. The tomatoes are firm, yet oddly flavorless; they definitely need the basil and sea salt to give it any depth. Likewise, I’m not in love with the cheese because it just tastes like the fresh stuff I buy at Meijer for pizzas at home. None of this is bad, just shrug-worthy. Juliet, even though she hates fresh tomatoes, gamely makes the switch so I can try her Russa. It’s roasted beet, potatoes, carrots, red onion, sweet corn, and peas tossed in a spicy pink dressing. And it is incredible! It reminds me of a rich, creamy potato salad. Again, I’m left wanting more.

Soup’s on after our salad plates are cleared. I receive Acquacotta, a summer vegetable soup with spicy tomatoes, cheese, scallions, and some bits of corn. Spicy and hearty at the same time, I am loathe to give it up to Juliet but I am more than curious about hers. Finocchio is a thick, cream-based soup with fennel bulb and roasted garlic parmigiano, garnished with S&S lamb bacon. Lamb bacon? I greedily attack the remains of her bowl, but it’s clear after a couple bites that my soup is better...though she readily prefers this one. Our tastes differ vastly in some respects, which is why this course-swapping experiment is such fun!

Finally, we’re on to the main course. I’m very happy to see a loaded platter of Gnocchi Verdi, made of potato, Swiss chard, spinach, and basil. The dumplings are stewing in vodka cream sauce with shavings of Cowslip creamery Phocas cheese. From my first bite, I can tell these are something special: puckery tomato sauce, earthy cheese flakes, and light, fluffy gnocchi pillows. I tuck in forkful after forkful with reckless abandon. If the waitress had tried to yank my plate away, I probably would have bitten her hand. Luckily, Juliet seems just as much in love with her Pappardelle so we decide to share a couple bites, but keep our own plates.

Fifth course is dessert. I’m pretty well sated but resolve to try at least a bite (for the sake of this article, you understand). As it turns out, the two choices are little more than a couple bites each. Tiramisu is a cherry-topped, whipped cream enshrouded coffee-soaked lemon biscuit and mascarpone in an oversized spoon. It is a sweet and traditional end to the meal, begging to be accompanied by espresso. The Tartufo, on the other hand, is anything but traditional. It’s a hand rolled chocolate toffee truffle with cayenne pepper, topped with Pop Rocks. My mouthful is aswirl with gooey sweet-spicy chocolate and musical crackling that delights. Too much fun!

Our experience ends with smiles on our faces and bellies full of good food that brings to mind the trattoria visits we had while in Rome. There is no doubt we’ll be making Amore one of our regular stops when we’re craving Italian.
She Fed:

We’ve been wanting to get to Amore Trattoria since the day it opened. Early on, we planned to meet up with our friends JoJo and Ivy, but a lengthy airline delay (thanks Delta!) kept me away and put the kibosh on the evening. Restaurant Week seems like the perfect time to give it another try. Despite a lobby full of people waiting for tables, our reservations secure us immediate seating. Unfortunately, we’re placed in the bar, which is incredibly noisy. We had hoped tonight would be a quiet dinner for two, but the blaring televisions and boisterous patrons have other ideas. For me at least, the charm begins to wear thin.

It’s funny how a great server can turn your mood around. Just as I’m about to suggest we go someplace less raucous, our server approaches to take our drink order. She’s engaging and genuinely excited when we tell her it’s our first visit to Amore. When Jeremy explains we want the special Restaurant Week menu she suggests that since there’s two choices for each course we should each take one, giving us a chance to share and taste a bit of both. Brilliant!

For the first course we share the arancino and the zucchini ripieno. I adore arancino, risotto fritters stuffed with cheese and sometimes meat. The creamy filling contrasts nicely with the crunchy crust. But I much prefer the zucchini topped with housemade Italian sausage and a bit of sundried tomato pesto. A squeeze of lemon brightens it up, making it taste like summer on a plate. Prosecco is poured for my pairing and I think it works better with the zucchini than the arancino., but it might just be my preference for the zucchini dish.

Both choices for our second course feature deal breakers for me—fresh tomatoes in the caprese salad and sweet peas in the veggie salad. I know, I know...I’m the only person in the entire Midwest who can’t stand raw tomatoes. I’ve tried to like them; I just don’t. So I taste a bit of the mozzarella on the caprese and take a tentative bit of the “Russa”, a salad of beets, potatoes, carrots, red onion, corn and peas in a mayo based dressing. It reminds me of jazzed up potato salad and I like the pink tint the dressing takes on from the beets. But it’s laced with green peas, so I give the rest to Jeremy, content to sip my pinot-chardonnay blend pairing.

I’m looking forward to the soup course. I get the finocchio, a creamy fennel bulb and roasted garlic soup, while Jeremy gets a summer veggie soup. We take a taste of each and both declare we like what we were served best and the sharing, for this course at least, can stop. The garlicky fennel soup is incredibly comforting and I save the garnish of S & S lamb bacon for my last bite. My wine pairing is the house merlot and the smokiness of it works wonderfully with the creamy soup.

The fourth course is pasta and I get the pappardelle with beef tenderloin, mushroom sauce, truffled cheese, and porcini dust. This is decadence in a bowl! The pasta is housemade, plush with egg yolks. Despite his dislike of truffles and mushrooms, Jeremy takes a bite declaring, “It’s almost like Hamburger Helper.” I disagree with him on that assessment and happily finish the dish. I do wonder why tenderloin was featured, since it’s cut into small tidbits and cooked past well done. Seems like another cut might be better suited, right? In any case, I enjoy it immensely. The house chianti is sharp and bold cutting through the richness of the dish while complementing the meatiness of it as well.

I am stuffed by now and thrilled to see the dessert tastings are tiny. There’s a chocolate truffle with pop rocks and cayenne pepper and a spoonful of lemon Tiramisu. I don’t get any of the pop rocks or pepper in my bite of the truffle, just pure dark chocolate, which is fine by me. The lemon Tiramisu is refreshing, reminiscent of my mother’s lemon meringue pie, with its lip smacking pucker. I sip my final pairing: a sweet bubbly moscato. Not something I would normally order, but with the citrus dessert it’s lovely.

Amore Trattoria was worth the wait and I know we will be back. I’m picturing a big group of friends, a lot of house wine, and big steaming bowls of the housemade pasta this fall. Who’s in?

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