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By Bernie Whitmore
631 Franklin Street has seen many eateries in years past. I did patronize some of these previous incarnations but, while I appreciate the fast-cheap-marginal-quality concept, it often felt as if I’d wandered into a burnt-out trailer park on pot luck supper night.
I daresay Chioda’s marks the first time someone’s gotten serious about fine dining at that location. They started by gutting the place. Other than the general contours of the building, the transformation is complete ~ no vestige of the past is visible on the inside. Certainly this radical makeover would have been easier had they’d started with a casually tossed thermonuclear device.
That nuke might also have spruced up the neighborhood of debris-choked abandoned lots and run-down auto repair shanties. But you’ll forget all that nastiness after you enter Chioda’s and find yourself enveloped in its sepia-toned slice of Tuscany. Stenciled walls are hung with family portraits and a huge wrought iron wine rack. My companion and I were seated at a table near the bar but separated from it by a half-wall topped with a Christmassy centerpiece of greenery, shiny ribbons and little lights. Yeah, it was late April, but in a few months they’ll be ahead of the curve.
Our waitress, Stephanie, brought a basket of chewy Italian bread with garlicky herb infused dipping oil and answered our questions about the menu. Though Chioda’s wine list is compact, they’ve aimed for quality and we immediately found some ideal choices. I chose a glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a prime example of the excellent wines coming from Marlborough region of New Zealand. It was served at an ideal temperature, cool but not refrigerated, that allowed the citrus and grassy-fresh flavors to bloom.
We decided to start with the Antipasto Salad ($11). Topped with warm strips of grilled sausage, it was a blend of greens drenched in balsamic vinaigrette, olives, sharp provolone cheese, roasted red pepper strips and sliced mushrooms. It served as both our appetizer and salad courses ~ there was easily enough to satisfy a party of four.
After clearing our dishes, Stephanie served Chioda’s complementary cup of Italian wedding soup. Is this really served at weddings? Or does the name come from its union of tender chicken, mini-meatballs, vegetables and broth? We dressed it with vigorous shakes of grated cheese and ceremoniously dunked the last chunks of bread.
Even though the other dining room was host to a large party, the kitchen made the pacing of our courses seem effortless and our entrees soon arrived. My Shrimp Fra Diavolo ($16) was traditionally interpreted. A bed of fettuccini noodles was dressed with sautéed tomatoes, garlic, basil and eight or ten tasty shrimp. The diavolo’s fire was ignited by a liberal toss of red pepper flakes. Both entrees were served piping hot directly from the kitchen.
The chef took a more creative approach preparing my guest’s entrée, Veal Saltimbocca ($17). His version consisted of veal medallions topped with prosciutto and mozzarella sautéed with diced tomatoes and mushrooms in vermouth butter sauce. My friend proclaimed, “The veal is tender… and the prosciutto’s delicious!” The menu specifies linguini but my guest had requested tortellini pasta instead.
For dessert we shared a slice of Almond Biscotti Tort ($4). “It’s very sweet!” Stephanie warned. Undeterred, we tore into the tall wedge stacked with thick layers of almond cream and yellow cake. It was artfully served on a large glass dish garnished with chocolate syrup and puffs of whipped cream.
Chioda’s is just the kind of place you want to love ~ small, family run and just off the well-worn path. Better yet, they’re delivering the service, quality and value that we can love.