236 Market St.
Credit cards accepted
Restrooms down a flight of stairs
Last Wednesday evening, when the weather became a bit warmer, Edward and I decided to hop the bus to Old City and have dinner at a certain BYOB. I checked the Zagat Guide, which stated credit cards are accepted there. When we arrived at the restaurant, however, there was a sign on the door that read "cash only," reflecting a recent policy change.
Since we don’t use ATMs, we then walked about Old City, bottle of Côtes du Rhône in hand, looking for another restaurant.
There are a number of places on the 200 block of Market Street, and we happened upon Amici-Noi. I have seen advertisements for the restaurant and since we needed an alternative, we decided to try it.
As soon as we walked in, it was "déjà vu all over again," as Yogi Berra says. I had the feeling we had been here before despite some major changes in the decor. Amici-Noi, which means "we friends" in Italian, used to be Caffe Monticello. Edward and I had an above-average dinner there a few years ago.
The warm exposed brick wall and pretty blue hanging lights were still there, but the tables and chairs had been replaced with upholstered dark red and gray booth-like structures that seemed out of place. We settled in and looked over the menu.
While we waited for our drinks, I thought about the number of Italian restaurants in this town. I think there are too many, and few serve cucina that really tempts my taste buds. Amici-Noi’s bill of fare is standard Italian.
We were the only patrons having dinner and the bar was empty as well. Our waiter knew the menu and answered our questions. He brought us a basket of warm bread, including dense little rolls shaped like bagels, which had been dusted with herbs, bathed in a bit of olive oil and baked in the oven. They were really good.
I began dinner with a deep bowl of pasta e fagiole ($5), a rich, delicious soup made with large white beans and perfectly cooked tubetti, along with tiny bits of not-at-all-salty prosciutto, which enhanced the homemade stock. It arrived nice and hot. A platter of fried calamari ($9) was a good-sized portion of squid rings that had been coated in crumbs and lightly fried. Edward and I both found the squid to be tender, but thought it could have stayed a bit more in the pan so the coating would be crispy. The spicy marinara that accompanied the squid was obviously homemade and rather tasty.
I haven’t had an antipasto in a long time, so we decided to share the one on offer ($11) at Amici-Noi. Our attentive waiter brought us some warm bread with a nice crispy crust to enjoy with it. The plate contained thinly sliced mortadella, prosciutto, sliced marinated artichoke hearts — either frozen or from a can, but they were of good quality and not mushy as the canned variety often are; some plump roasted red peppers, four small balls of fresh mozzarella and sliced tomatoes that lacked flavor. Plum tomatoes fare better in winter. I thought the platter too small for the price.
The wine list is reasonably priced. There are a number of bottles between $24 and $27. We opted for wines by the glass and enjoyed dependable Ruffino Chianti ($7.50), a mainstay of neighborhood trattorias.
Veal Amici ($17) sounded right up Edward’s alley. He loves breaded veal cutlet. Come to think of it, so do I. The waiter told us the medallions of veal are pan-roasted and there is no marinara sauce in the dish. Since we both enjoy veal topped with arugula and shavings of Parmigianno-Reggiano, we asked him if the chef could oblige us. "Of course, he can," said our waiter.
The veal Amici consisted of two good-sized medallions of veal that had been pounded properly, coated in crumbs and pan-roasted. The veal was tender and could be cut with a butter knife. The coating, like the one on the calamari, lacked crispness, so a bit longer in the pan would have made the dish just right. This dinner came with piping-hot creamy whipped potatoes and fresh broccoli rabe, which was not at all bitter.
My dinner was the only disappointing dish. Spaghetti with shrimp and crabmeat with tomato in a pesto sauce ($17) was not properly prepared. Pesto, that glorious basil-rich sauce from Genoa, is made with handfuls of fresh basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and garlic. It is ground together either by hand or in a food processor. Its bright green color and heady aroma are quite distinctive. I received a bowl of spaghetti, cooked al dente, topped with about six shrimp, which were not overcooked, and a bit of crabmeat. The sauce under the ingredients was a thin broth that Edward and I thought was made with clam juice. A little chopped parsley was added to the plate and as I twirled my fork around, I found a few pine nuts. But obviously, this was not pesto. It had a slightly sour flavor, which overpowered the shrimp and made them taste a bit "off."
At the end of our meal, our waiter asked me how I liked the pesto. I was polite and truthful and he could see I barely touched my dinner. He then did something waiters rarely do these days. He smiled, apologized and said he would speak with the chef.
Edward asked for the check and we noticed the spaghetti with pesto had been removed from the bill (we did not ask our waiter to do so).
Prices at Amici-Noi are more reasonable than at most Old City restaurants, where rents are high. Appetizers run $5 to $11 and entrées are under $20. A variety of pizzas is also available.
One-and-a-half tips of the toque to Amici-Noi.