by Amanda Keyko
Maddy and I had been dreaming about pizza since Thursday night, and after resisting the urge to call in Campus Pizza for dinner, we decided to dress up and head to Rizzuto’s Restaurant and Bar in West Hartford to satisfy our craving. Although we thought our last minute decision was brilliant, we had not made reservations and walking into the packed restaurant with our stomachs growling we were told we had to wait 35 minutes for a table. Luckily for us the restaurant is in the center of Blue Back Square, so we were able to squeeze in some shopping before dinner.
When our table was finally ready, the hostess walked us through the fun and geometric crowded space to our seats next to a giant window. The setting was very intimate with a decorative wall that created a private nook. With the smell of freshly made marinara drifting through the air, we quickly began to examine our menus. Our waiters also gave us the list of the specials and told us any of the pastas could be switched for a gluten-free option. The menu had a typical Italian antipasto section with an extensive cheese and cured meats list, along with a large selection of appetizers, salads, pastas and pizzas. We decided to start with the winter caprese salad and share two entrees: the funghi pizza and orecchiette and house made fennel sausage pasta. After our waiter had taken our orders, he brought over freshly baked bread with steaming marinara sauce. As we smothered our baguette pieces with sauce we examined the interior of the restaurant. Rizzuto’s has a cool and hip vibe, with many geometric architectural elements. The atmosphere was accented with many dark wood and stainless steel pieces. The restaurant was divided into two sections: a bar area, and a dining area with booths and small tables. It is clearly a local favorite, since every single table was filled and the entrance was packed with people waiting for a table.
Our salad arrived quickly on a large ceramic white plate. It consisted of roasted red Roma and yellow tomatoes, warmed burrata (our favorite!), cheese on semolina, local pea greens dressed with olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The portion was huge and we both received large servings of the salad. We enjoyed the fact that the cheese was melted into a thick piece of bread that perfectly complimented the melt in your mouth tomatoes. It was quickly consumed, and we eagerly awaited our entrees. Both dishes again were generously portioned and made them easy to split. The orecchiete and house made fennel sausage pasta, also contained broccoli rabe, plum tomatoes, olive oil and roasted garlic. We both loved the dish, the sausage was amazing and the fennel flavor was very apparent. Everything in the dish was to our liking. Next we moved onto our pizza covered in king oyster and shitake mushrooms, roasted garlic, pancetta, baby arugula, smoked mozzarella and olive oil. The pizza was wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, and having consumed pizza all over Italy last summer we had high expectations. Unfortunately, we did not love the combination. The pancetta, which appeared to actually be bacon, was overpowering and the arugula was cooked into the cheese making the taste too dry for our liking. We thought fresh tomatoes or a sauce would have transformed the pizza. Nevertheless, the crust was still delicious and we added our leftover dipping marinara to fix our problem.
Maddy and I definitely enjoyed our experience at Rizzuto’s. The menu had a great selection of revamped Italian classics like fig barbequed pizza, artichoke salad and cavatelli pesto chicken pasta. The restaurant was also in a great space and both of us agreed to bring our parents here during their next visit. The prices were moderate with entrees ranging from $13 to $22 and appetizers around $10. They also had a fun cocktail section with options like homemade grapefruit infused tequila. Make sure you try Rizzuto’s Restaurant and Bar during a much needed study break before the semester is over. Remember to make a reservation first though!