Enjoy old-country fare with a contemporary twist at il Pomod’Oro

il Pomod'Oro's warm apple crostata a la mode (Marisa Nadolny)
il Pomod'Oro's warm apple crostata a la mode (Marisa Nadolny)

After much discussion about its genesis and permitting, it’s time to talk turkey, so to speak, about il Pomod’Oro in East Lyme. 

You might say that the region is good and stocked up on pizza places, and you’d be right; however, few of them craft a pie or a plate of pasta as well as il Pomod’Oro. With its emphasis on top-shelf ingredients, freshness and authenticity, the culinary team at il Pomod’Oro raises the bar on dishes we’ve all frequently encountered elsewhere.

For example, meatball pizza is not exactly the latest Italian import to our shores, but sample Il Pomo’s Polpette pie ($18.99; 13 inches) and you might have a hard time going back to those offered at your old standbys. That’s because the meatballs on the Polpette are handmade from grass-fed beef and set upon flavorful mozzarella and tangy-delicious red sauce. You will taste the difference immediately, particularly thanks to the bright seasoning, the tenderness of the beef, and the excellent crust — a doughy-crisp delight. And we suggest pairing that pie with the bountiful Garden Salad ($9), an abundant mix of mixed greens, cukes, and cherry tomatoes, topped with large flakes of pecorino cheese and served with a very good balsamic dressing. A handful of other salads will likely round out your meal just as well — we look forward to sampling the Pomodoro Caprese ($14.99) next time.

Some of il Pomod’Oro’s recipe updates aren’t as subtle as a simple switch to grass-fed beef, but most are equally effective at setting several dishes apart from their peers. As far as we could tell, the Organic Pasta Fagioli we ordered ($8.50) contained all the expected basics: a thick beef and tomato broth populated with pasta, beans and some veggies. And yet, it presented like no other incarnation of the soup we’ve sampled; to me, the flavor profile conjured the best of black bean soup — smoky, savory notes — with the tomato-y brightness and strong beef and garlic background of classic pasta fagioli. Thick and hearty with chopped tagliatelle-like pasta, this is a filling, satisfying dish.

As an example of excellent ingredient sourcing, we also must recommend the PEI Mussels appetizer ($12). We tried not to gape at the size of the not-so-little little guys, but they were hands down the largest specimens we’ve ever met. We were able to put our wonder aside quickly and dive right in, thanks in part to the wonderful scent of the tomato-garlic broth within which our mussels now swam. Tucked throughout were bits of cherry peppers that added yet another savory layer to the whole mix. Bonus: The mussels are served with two crostini, because you are going to want to finish off that broth.

Between the two entrees we selected, we had to split hairs in determining our number-one for the night. My Bucatini Cacio el Pepe ($22.99) made a strong showing against the mister’s Free Range Chicken Piccata ($23.99), but we gave the edge to the chicken. Some will say you can’t taste the difference between organic or free-range meat products and their caged counterparts. Those people are wrong, and il Pomod’Oro was right to pursue a higher standard in the kitchen. Quality ingredients build off each other, and in this case, the tender, moist chicken became a rich base for the lively lemon-butter piccata sauce with its bright, tangy, caper accents. And before you balk at the price, consider that it bought us three sizable chicken breasts atop a mound of linguini — two meals easily.

Now, we both enjoyed the Bucatini Cacio el Pepe — hollow spaghetti-like pasta served with bacon, pecorino-romano cheese and black pepper. It’s a hearty dish and one of my favorites, and while il Pomod’Oro’s was well executed — I mean, what’s not to love about a pasta dish that creates its own sauce of cheesy-bacon goodness with the pop of black pepper? — I prefer a little more crispness to the dish’s characteristic bacon. It was generously applied, and its smoky flavor balanced the bite-y notes from the cheese nicely, but I’m a texture gal. Note: My husband had no complaints and enjoyed the softer, steamier take on the salty pork.

Somehow, we left room for dessert, and I would strongly urge that bit of restraint because il Pomod’Oro offers an intriguing list of house-made desserts. Next time, we plan to try the Passion Fruit Panna Cotta, but we could not pass up the Warm Apple Crostata a la mode ($12). The vanilla ice cream itself was quite good; when paired with warm mound of flaky, buttery, apple-filled pastry, which is then topped with caramel sauce, the result is extraordinary and heavenly. That the crostata never soggified and held up to the melty, gooey joy heaped upon it was an unexpected and appreciated exercise in the best of both textural worlds.

So, yes, here we are with another pizza place in the region. But this time it’s not a case of tomato-tomahto. This restaurant goes full pomodoro, and that authenticity makes all the difference.

 

il Pomod'Oro's PEI mussels appetizer (Marisa Nadolny)
il Pomod'Oro's PEI mussels appetizer (Marisa Nadolny)

il Pomod'Oro Restaurant & Pizzeria

117 Boston Post Road, East Lyme

(860) 739-6234

eat@ilpomodoroitalianrestaurant.com

Cuisine: Authentic Italian (including pizza)

Atmosphere: Cheerful yet chic interior cultivates coziness, from the comfortable chairs and lighting to the attractive linens and dishware; includes bar area.

Service: Knowledgeable and professional; courteous enough: We experienced no warm fuzzies but also no rudeness.

Prices: Not cheap, not outrageous. If you value topnotch ingredients including many organic items, you won't mind paying the comparatively (and slightly) elevated prices at il Pomod'Oro.

Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 4-9 p.m.; Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Reservations: Accepted for groups of four or more.

Credit cards: Accepted

Handicapped access: Spacious interior, and there's a brand-new ramp installed at the back entrance to the restaurant.

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