Veteran Carmine’s restaurateur brings his winning formula to (where else?) Port Chester. But does it work here?
Arrosto’s interior is a combination of modern and rustic.
What do you get when you combine an extremely successful restaurateur with a chef who, before reaching age 30, received more accolades and honors than most can hope for in a lifetime?
In the case of Arrosto, you get an ambitious menu wisely designed to offer options for every diner; space that includes the now nearly requisite view into an open kitchen area (or at least the pizza oven); décor that is gently modern with hints of farmhouse and comes dangerously close to innocuous; impressively helpful, friendly service; and food that ranges from fabulous to flawed.
Perhaps it’s only because we know restaurateur Godfrey Polistina cut his teeth at Carmine’s that we see hints of it in the large back dining room with deep red and dark wood, and the crowded, easy, and warm vibe. (Polistina’s impressive roster of restaurants also includes ‘Cesca, Ouest, and Virgil’s.) We never had the opportunity to taste Chef Richard J. Corbo’s food at Ducca, the San Francisco restaurant that put him on the culinary map and for which he was nominated for Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation, but we could name a few dishes at Arrosto that hint at that level of talent.
The centerpiece of the menu and the concept behind its name is the “arrosti,” which, in English, means “roasted.” The five meats and fish offered as arrosti each serve three to four people. With our first bite of the 32-ounce Berkshire pork, we were sold on the idea. The slow-cooked rolls were laden with meaty, fatty flavor and so tender that, as soon as the fork approached, they fell apart on the plate; every bite included sweet, caramelized onion; herb stuffing; and just a hint of slightly bitter Amaro liqueur.
The lobster arrosto with vanilla butter was perfectly cooked and its shell was thoughtfully cracked, making the meat easy (and less messy) to eat. The classic combination of lobster and vanilla was blindsided by the aggressive use of vanilla, which dominated, rather than enhanced, the sweet lobster meat.
The restaurant also offers entrées portioned for one person, as well as pizzas baked in a wood oven; little “tastes” (or small plates) for starters, as well as regular appetizers; pastas in two sizes (“a little” and “a lot”); antipasto plate; and assorted side dishes. Thankfully, the waiters were very good at guiding us toward ordering the right amount of food—it is certainly not self-evident when reading the menu.
We sampled dishes from every category. Each “little tastes” starter consisted of six bites. Golden arancini (rice balls) were a study in the pleasures of texture: each bite through the crisp exterior gave way to the creamy body. Little dollops of sweet sheep’s-milk ricotta drizzled with aromatic truffle honey was a triumph of purveying more than finesse at the stove; we’ll stay at any table with that heavenly combination in front of us. Baby beets went light years in the opposite direction: unusually mild beets were tossed with olive oil, garnished with poppy seeds, and served with pistachio butter whipped with cream in a simple, subtle treatment that was pleasant enough but left us wanting for depth.
Any discussion of the pizzas at Arrosto should start with the crusts: they are thin, but with just enough heft to sink your teeth into, and slightly charred, which gives them more of a presence than a mere vehicle for topping. Now top those crusts with thinly sliced potato, which lends creaminess in place of cheese; sweet apple; fatty and salty pork belly; tiny slashes of heat from red Holland chili; and mild, bitter, and herbaceous arugula added after the pizza comes out of the oven. Share it as an appetizer or have it for your entrée, but don’t miss it.
Pasta also can be ordered as a starter or a main dish, but, either way, black tonnarelli (a toothsome strand-shaped pasta) in a pesto broth with sweet calamari and tender cockles, while somewhat salty, is a tasty choice.
After all these little bites and shared plates, an entrée of one’s own may have a certain appeal. The chicken with trumpet mushrooms and salsify is another single-portion entrée well worth ordering. The marinated, grilled chicken breast and thigh were covered in savory, crisp, golden, and herb-speckled skin; the meat was moist and tender. The sautéed mushroom topping added depth, but this remains a simple, perfectly executed, wonderfully flavorful dish.
However, many side dishes disappointed, and sadly, there is little to recommend for dessert. Mascarpone panna cotta was more gelatinous than silky; chocolate Nutella budino tasted like peanut butter pudding with milk chocolate; a spiced apple and honey crostata was dry and overly pungent. One better note: the pine-nut tart had a tender, flaky shell and lovely sesame-seed brittle and was topped with a pine cone bud gelato. The pine flavor may not be for everyone, but at least this dish had no textural issues and the flavors were well-balanced.
It is no fun to end a meal on a sour note; nor is it fun to end a review that way. In truth, there is much to be said in Arrosto’s favor. It is a restaurant we would return to, especially armed with the knowledge that, though some dishes should be avoided, others are well worth the visit. And, certainly, if after a meal there we still yearn for dessert, we might head to the nearest ice cream parlor.
Arrosto ★★ 1/2
25 S Regent St, Port Chester
Hours: lunch, Mon to Fri 12:00-3 pm; dinner, Mon to Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri to Sat 5-11 pm, Sun 4-10 pm
Appetizers: $6-$16; pizza and pasta: $12-$16; entrées: $10-$25
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good