Our favorite story about Trattoria Marcella involves a meal we had there with a friend of Joe’s who writes about restaurants in New York City. It was a meal on short notice at a deeply unfashionable time of day. When we got done, the chap was practically in tears. "Yes, the food was excellent," he exclaimed, "but the service—now that’s what made this remarkable."
We find Trattoria Marcella reliable enough that we can depend on it for such events, and now that the Komoreks have enlarged, it’s easier to get a table than it once was. While it continues to fill up, especially with folks celebrating one occasion or another, we like it best a little later in the evening when things slow down and the atmosphere reverts to something very close to a real Italian trattoria.
On a recent evening, we began with a spinach salad. Marcella’s version wears a dressing the menu describes as creamy, but is really rather light, and only slightly sweet. We’re usually not fond of sweet salad dressings, but this one had everything in excellent balance. It also contained a "bacon" made in-house with salmon for an absolutely wonderful flavor and texture sensation, some red onion that unfortunately included one very large and unpleasant chunk and shoestring potatoes that had cooled so much they were soggy. However, this was the only misstep of the meal.
A plate of polenta "fries"—firmed-up polenta cut in finger-sized logs and crisped in hot oil—was topped with a wonderful mushroom sauce, rich and brown, laced with what was probably a little Marsala, making the dish utterly idyllic.
First-time visitors need to know that the signature dish is the lobster risotto, not on the menu but almost always offered as a special. (The starter we steer them to is the flash-fried spinach and calimari.) But we usually go in other directions. Three fat lamb chops arrived, lolling on a bed of eggplant risotto laced with tomato. Eggplant and tomato are both bosom buddies of lamb, so the result was perhaps not surprising, but it certainly was rewarding. It’s a delicious dish; the fact that the risotto wasn’t overcooked was the crowning touch.
Don’t ever overlook the pasta that comes from this kitchen. We’ve had excellent dishes, always perfectly cooked, including some gnocchi we still talk about. This night, a farfalle, or bow-tie pasta wore a lemon cream sauce—not much cream, we’d point out, no heavy coat here—studded with smoked salmon and crisp snow peas and topped with a little marinated fresh tomato, an outstanding combination of textures and tastes.
Marcella isn’t as much about desserts as it is the earlier parts of the meal, although the creme brulee and cheesecakes are quite respectable. We go for the chocolate bombe, mousse that’s enrobed in chocolate and set on a hazelnut crust, a little lighter and just the thing to finish up the last of the red wine.
Speaking of wine, it’s an outstanding list in a mostly-moderate price range, and there are always some by-the-glass offerings that are delightful. We’re fans of Italian reds, usually robust and hearty, and the wine list can fit any budget and style.
3600 Watson Rd.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Fair