Rather than ignoring what’s common knowledge to the most casual followers of Worcester’s dining scene, let’s start with the obvious: Padavano’s Place is the sister restaurant of Rosalina’s Kitchen, that funky little dining spot over on Grafton Hill. With delicious home-cooked Italian fare, Rosalina’s has been a favorite for informal gatherings, a place about which, back in 2012, I penned, “If you don’t meet friends at Rosalina’s, you’ll usually make a few.”
So I didn’t exactly wander into Padavano’s with my mind a tabula rasa. If anything, my expectations were higher than they might otherwise have been, absent the Rosalina’s experience.
These might be sister restaurants; indeed, nestled within their DNA are obvious similarities in cuisine and hospitality. But in atmosphere and physical appearance, they couldn’t be more different. Padavano’s is located in a new structure on Worcester’s Restaurant Row. High ceilings, fresh decor and a lounge with a full bar and live entertainment are Padavano’s stylish answer to Rosalina’s funky three-decker chic.
Let’s put away the superficiality and drill down to what’s really important ~ the Padavano dining experience.
My friend and I were greeted by Padavano’s host with an invitation to choose whatever table we wanted. Fair enough; we easily found one with adequate lighting in a quiet corner. Our waitress soon arrived with menus, a recital of specials and asked if we would like to order drinks. I needed to make some dining decisions first.
Padavano’s menu is quite diverse, Italian at its core but with several surprises. I have friends who’d be eager to try such an item as Spicy Brown Sugar Sausage Bites with Cinnamon Cream Sauce. And, as with green eggs and ham, I might see that if I just tried them, I would so like them. But not tonight!
Instead, we decided to start with Yolanda’s Fried Calamari. We opted out of the fried pepper upgrade and loved them, with a quick twist of fresh lemon and an occasional dunk into Padavano’s tasty marinara. So fresh they almost tasted sweet, these rings and tentacle snarls were fried a light golden brown in the cleanest of oil baths. No heavy deep-fried flavor. Just simple, honest seafood flavor in a crispy coating.
From there, we continued with Caesar salad. A big bowl of sliced romaine, each leaf was evenly coated with creamy dressing rich with Parmesan, garlic and a touch of lemon flavors. A harmonious blend, with no one flavor overpowering the others. In addition to the tumble of crunchy croutons, this Caesar was tossed with a generous scattering of parmesan cheese shavings, an elegant touch.
When I go to Rosalina’s Kitchen, I remain true to a duo of entrees ~ raviolis and linguine with clam sauce. I consider these choices solid as bedrock. But I wanted to stray a bit at Padavano’s, so I braced myself and ordered the Veal & Sausage Mafia, “a delightful combination of sautéed veal and sausage bites.” Several things appealed to me, especially the mushrooms simmered in a roasted red pepper sauce.
But Mafia? I just don’t think my Italian friends would approve. And sausage bites? “Bites,” in my belief system, is code for something from the freezer case served to undiscerning teenagers.
But this, after all, was Padavano’s Place. Everything’s homemade. And, sure enough, the dish was a winner. Big slices of meaty mushrooms were tossed with half-medallions of veal and short lengths of tender sausage. The roasted red pepper sauce was zesty and clung to every crevasse of the radiatori pasta. My glass of the house’s ruby-red Cabernet Sauvignon was a sure-fire match.
Yet there was something, umm, interesting about that sausage. It was very tasty and true, but its texture was soft. I asked the manager about it. Her explanation was supremely simple. After consulting the kitchen, she confirmed that it was made fresh that evening. As I looked closer, some of the thin lengths of casings had slipped off ~ it was really that delicate!
My friend, meanwhile, was preoccupied with his bowl of Linguini & Clam Sauce. Whereas I prefer red sauce, he ordered it with the white wine sauce. Padavano’s has kept the winning formula! This is a bowl of pasta tossed with a boatload of beautifully clean clams, with tiny shells as I’d only seen in Italy before we started going to Rosalina’s. Each clam contains a perfect little specimen of meat, totally free of grit. The brothy sauce was tinged buttery gold with a flavor richer than expected. The kitchen knows how delicious and irresistible it is. … the dish is served with thick slices of grilled Italian bread.
Rosalina’s Kitchen or Padavano’s Place? Two sisters, each with a distinctive personality. Both with forthright hospitality and a keen dedication to quality. Don’t ask me to choose a favorite!
358 Shrewsbury Street, Worcester
By Bernie Whitmore