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In a fickle business that claims way more casualties than it creates successes, veteran restaurateur Jerry Barakat is still there. And there and there and there.
In 1981, Barakat and then-wife Terry opened the Terrace, a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant in Breckenridge Village that after a couple of moves lives on as Terrace on the Green at Cypress Plaza. Barakat today has other restaurants: Gaucho's, Arthur's and Amalfi's. But his is not a simple, arithmetic, straight-line story. Along the way, particularly recently, there have been relocations, remodelings, reformattings, resurrections — and some concepts Barakat threw against the kitchen wall that simply didn't stick.
The third incarnation in its backside spot in the sprawling Village at Rahling Road, Amalfi's is the newest pony in the stable — and it's got some things going for it:
• Barakat's experience, reputation, personal attention to his operations and sense of what makes a restaurant appealing.
• The lack, or perceived lack, of a large number of Italian restaurants that consistently do great work, although Almalfi's isn't “Italian” in the strictly spaghetti/ravioli/manicotti/lasagna, red-sauce drenched sort of way.
• The look and feel — well-appointed, elegant and inviting.
• Prices that aren't crazy-high, particularly for some of the entrees — pastas in the low teens, chicken in the high teens and fish/seafood just above $20.
• Culinary flourishes that differentiate some dishes from the norm.
From the robust selection of appetizers we chose the bruschetta ($9), a bit surprised to see “colossal Italian beans” as one of the ingredients but still pretty confident what we'd be served. We were wrong. This was a BYOB deal: “Build Your Own Bruschetta.” Thin slices of toasted baguette straddled a three-compartment serving dish that held white beans (which indeed deserved the “colossal” description), grape tomatoes wading in a hearty balsamic and some firmed-up molten cheese — along with a big spoon. Layer as you please — it's hard to go wrong with these ingredients in any combination.
We were too enamored with the heartier entrees to focus only on a pasta dish, but we felt compelled to try one. So we chose spaghetti carbonara ($14) to split as a bridge between the bruschetta and main courses. The menu described a typical Carbonara with one extra — onions — but when the dish arrived it was sauteed baby spinach leaves and not onions that customized the dish. The spinach was a nice twist. And this was a subtle Carbonara all the way around — not as cloyingly creamy as many. The decent-sized hunks of crisp pancetta were a salty highlight.
The halibut ($23) was the least Italian sounding of the four fish/seafood choices, but accented with shrimp, crab and wild mushrooms and paired with risotto, we couldn't resist. Good choice. The tastes worked well together, and we were served a gargantuan filet that somehow was cooked perfectly throughout — moist, flaky and flavorful. The saffron-laced sauce complemented but didn't overwhelm.
We expected a bit more from the osso bucco ($28) — literally and figuratively. The meat hanging from the two veal shanks was fattier than expected, so there just wasn't that much of it to consume. The wine reduction sauce was rich and tasty, but the whole thing was a little oilier than usual, accentuated because the dish was lukewarm — likely on hold while the huge chunk of fish finished cooking. We've heard friends rave about Amalfi's osso bucco, so benefit of the doubt is properly applied here.
When our waiter brought the dessert tray he recommended the cheesecake — interesting because he later told us, when questioned, that it was one of the only choices Amalfi's didn't make, having it flown in from New York. Light, creamy and citrusy, though not overpoweringly so, it is studded with blueberries and raspberries. It was absolutely delightful. The tiramisu, which is house-made, is light but just a little more “mocha” than our non-coffee drinker enjoyed.
The wine list is heavily skewed toward Italians, no shock there, and a separate section highlights a nice collection of Banfi selections. We were a bit surprised by the scarcity of wine-by-the-glass options, not helped by the fact that our choice was out of stock. Of course, we arrived past 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, which might also explain why our waiter told us, when we requested bread as the entrees were served, that it had been put away for the evening. Maybe we looked sad, because he found and heated a small ciabatta-type loaf and served it to us hot a few minutes later.
There is plenty to like about Amalfi's, but it's still too early to know where its legacy will rank in the grand Barakat scheme of things
The Village at Rahling Road
27 Rahling Road
Don't miss the bruschetta, a build-your-own variety that incorporates “colossal Italian beans.”
5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards. Full bar. Reservations accepted.