Since 1996, I’ve dined at 21 Pier Marketplace in Narragansett a number of times, and each visit was to a different restaurant. It started out as Woody’s, with a menu that combined Euro bistro and regional New England cuisine. More recently, it was the Cheeky Monkey, offering global cuisine and primateinspired artwork. It is now called SoHo, and it’s most deserving of your attention.
SoHo is a small contemporary restaurant, within walking distance of the historic Narragansett Towers and seawall, where you might want to stroll before or after dinner. The new owners, the extended DelFarno family, have made the most of the given space with lots of pub-height tables and chairs in the colorful lounge and more formally set tables in the intimate dining room. A bold red is the accent color here, from the hostess station to an abstract chandelier and an oversized vase. Interesting art adorns the walls.
From the moment we walked in, the vibe was happy and upbeat. We could
not have been treated more royally. We received warm greetings from the staff, an offer to hang our coats and our choice of any table in the house – what a refreshing change from so many other rigid establishments. When you go to SoHo, I hope your waiter will be Yool. He’s everything that the perfect waiter embodies. For instance, when I asked for a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay ($9), he offered me a taste of a less expensive white wine. I was happy to try it and decided to stick with my original request. I can’t remember the last time that I experienced that kind of gesture in a restaurant. The traditional Italian food in this modern eatery turned out to be just as impressive.
First things first: an ultramodern stainless steel bowl containing two kinds of warm bread was brought to our table, along with a small dish of garlic-infused olive oil. I was told the whole-grain bread is from Buono’s Bakery, and the other is from Crugnale’s. A nice touch – they actually asked if we wanted more bread. Remembering both our mothers’ words, “Don’t fill up on the bread,” we graciously declined.
Only a handful of local restaurants have Fried Smelts ($9.75) on their menu, so we just had to order them as one of our appetizers. I’ve had this dish before so I was surprised at how chewy these smelts were. But this didn’t discourage us from eating every single one, garnished with hot pepper rings and a generous splash of vinegar.
Our other “app” was another one of those dishes that I just have to order if I see it on the menu – the trendy Sirloin Meatball ($8.50). Bigger is not always better, but here that was the case. Made from an old family recipe, this oversized mound of ground beef was nicely cooked, not a bit dry, and topped with a zesty tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. It was more than the two of us could consume, so we asked to take the rest home. Our waiter said he would give us some of that Italian bread to take with us so we could make our own Italian subs the next day – how nice was that?
On to the main event: Brian ordered the Veal Florentine ($20), and I selected the Cod Toscana ($18.50). I was served fresh local cod that had been sautéed with mushrooms, shallots, artichoke hearts and capers, and a lemon and white wine sauce. On the side were chunky mashed potatoes and one of my favorite vegetables, broccoli rabe.
The Veal Florentine consisted of tender veal cutlets, spinach, mushrooms and rosemary in a shallot cream sauce. Yool asked if Brian would like his linguine to be topped with more of the cream sauce instead of the usual red sauce. What a wonderful suggestion. That is how that dish should be served all the time.
A wide assortment of desserts is available, from the very Italian to the decadent. We chose one from both categories – the traditional Sicilian Ricotta Pie ($6) and the Death by Chocolate Cake ($8). The moist wedge of house-made ricotta pie was served chilled, and it had just a hint of orange flavor. The chocolate cake was massive, enough for four people to eat, and one of the very best chocolate cakes we’ve ever had – fresh, moist, and studded with dark chocolate morsels. It was definitely to die for.
As we’ve been known to do, we also ordered a pizza to go – the basic SoHo Pizza ($9.50), topped with sliced black olives (for another $1). We enjoye it the next day after zapping it in the microwave oven for a mere 15 seconds. This was an ultra-thin tomato and cheese pie, with a surprisingly sweet sauce. We would have liked a lot more olives on top of the pizza. Chatting online with Anthony DelFarno, I was told they make their own pizza dough.Andrew Curado, with more than 20 years of experience cooking here and abroad, is the executive chef.
“Our formula is simple,” DelFarno said. “We use only fresh ingredients. We cook the classic Italian dishes the way they were meant to be prepared – simple and not overdone. We cook to order so we can accommodate any customer request even if it’s not on the menu. If we have the ingredients, we will make it.”
Yool stopped by our table now and then, checking to see if we were happy with our dinner. Other wait staff also checked in, making sure our water glasses were full and at times just making friendly conversation. This is the kind of attentive service that can turn a new customer into a regular patron. And they serve a 10 ounce martini. Now that’s reason enough to visit SoHo.
SoHo Ristorante, 21 Pier Marketplace, Narragansett. 401-789-7646
Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.