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Siena Cucina Enoteca

Small plates, Italian style
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  May 14, 2008

How does a restaurant re-invent its image while spinning off a sister venture? Federal Hill’s Siena has done it at Siena Cucina•Enoteca, in East Greenwich, with an emphasis on cic-chetti (Italian tapas), tasting boards of sausages, cheeses, or olives, and a full-bodied wine list. “Cucina•Enoteca” refers to Italian wine bars, “enoteca,” where small snacks from the kitchen (“cucina”) are always available.

And, like those Italian enoteca, there’s a distinctly neighborhood feel to this location of Siena, even among the upscale touches of white linens, fancy chandeliers, and padded chairs. Did it hit me when I saw family parties of six, seven, or even 10, placed strategically in each of the three separate dining areas? Did the large black and white photos of Tuscan scenes and faces underscore the heartfelt dedication of brothers/owners Anthony and Chris Tarro to present the food and hospitality of their heritage? Did the tables, bar, and lounge, which were all packed by 7:30 pm, with diners waiting near the door, tip me to Siena’s popularity?

Certainly, those were factors in our overall impressions, but it was the careful kitchen and the welcoming service that really won us over. Settling in to study the tapas, the grilled pizzas, the antipasti, and the salads, we passed up a chicken and pink vodka sauce pizza; two versions of fried calamari; caprese and Caesar salads; and, among the 10 cold and hot plates of cicchetti, roasted beets with pistachio dressing, batter-fried crostini with wild mushrooms, conch meat salad, and a grilled shrimp diavolo.

We chose tapas of batter-fried green beans ($4), an antipasto of grilled portobello caps ($9), and the special cheese of the evening, piave ($8; a bargain sampler of five cheeses is $13; five meats is $12). The green beans were tasty, but not “spicy,” as described. Nor was the aioli dipping sauce very garlicky. But the piave, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, was wonderfully com-plemented by candied pine nuts, dates, and grilled crostini.

The portobello caps were delicious, topped with caramelized onions, roasted peppers, and goat cheese, with the crisp-fried pancetta wheels on the side, as requested. They were served on a bed of mesclun greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

Between courses, we took in the decorative touches around us: apricot and plum colored walls, with accents of slate woodwork and orange banquettes and chairs. The aforementioned photos were grouped in nine square frames in two corners of our rectangular dining area. On the long wall were three Tuscan landscapes and 15 painted plates. Overhead was an unusual drum-shaped chandelier, a small mural of a Roman-era banquet around its sides, and glass balls dangling from its underside. These motifs of chandelier, plates, and photos were repeated in the bar, the other rectangular dining area, and the multi-windowed gazebo-like space at the front of the restaurant.

Looking through the ample entrée listings, we considered the seafood dishes, which included swordfish and Chilean sea bass; the meat dishes, with four veal variations, two steaks, three chicken preparations, and one pork dish; and a half-dozen pasta possibilities.

I chose the potato/ricotta gnocchi ($16), and Bill the pork tenderloin ($19). The gnocchi were described as tossed in an arugula and spinach pesto, with mascarpone and grilled yellow tomatoes. All of those ingredients combined to make a creamy sauce with piquant tomato moments, though I would have liked a sharper arugula hit.

Bill’s eyes lit up with the word “amaretto” waved over his pork twice, once in the marinade and once in the glaze. The flavor of almond (especially, as here, combined with pear) is to Bill’s sweet sensors as chipotle is to his savory ones: an inescapable draw, a can’t-turn-it-down option. So he loved the sauce around and through the slices of pork ten-derloin, appropriately pink, though he mentioned later that he found the meat itself a bit dry.

The highlight for him was his side of risotto bianco ($4), slow-cooked Arborio rice, with cream and Parmesan folded in. Since most of the risottos we’ve eaten have absorbed the broth in which they dance, without additional cream, Bill could not stop raving about this incarnation.
My favorite palate surprise was our dessert: a circle of lemon sponge cake with lemon custard on top ($7), delectably tart, with a raspberry Chambord sauce for accenting the lem-onyness. Other desserts were chocolate cake, crème brûlée, tiramisu, panettone bread pudding, and miniature doughboys topped with vanilla gelato and Nutella.

Siena Cucina•Enoteca could pull us back for any number of dishes and wines to try. But this is also a restaurant that has found the magical element of “gemütlichkeit”: a friendliness and comfortableness that underscores the term “hospitable.”
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Johnette Rodriguez:

SIENA CUCINA•ENOTECA | 401.885.8850 | 5600 Post Rd., East Greenwich | Tues-Fri, 5-10 pm; Sat, 4:30-10; Sun, 3-10 pm; Tues-Thurs (late night menu), 10-11 pm; Fri-Sat, 10 pm-midnight | major credit cards | full bar | handicapped accessible

  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle , Food and Cooking , Ethnic Cuisines ,  More more >
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