Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Italian food? Just the mere thought of homemade meatballs and lasagna makes my belly sing “that’s amore”. It is, without question, my favorite kind of cuisine and I think most people would agree. It’s the ultimate form of comfort food. In my opinion, there’s no better feeling than being surrounded by the ones you love as well as the food you love! So for Valentine’s Day, I followed my heart (and my stomach) to Siena Restaurant for some authentic Italian food, or as the owners call it, some “Tuscan Soul Food.”
Siena has two locations: Federal Hill in Providence and Post Road in East Greenwich. As much as I love the history and heritage of Federal Hill, I hate the parking situation. I have never been a fan of having valet park my car on the narrow back roads of Broadway and Atwells. This issue was avoided altogether by visiting Siena in East Greenwich which has a spacious parking lot. Not once did I worry about being sideswiped or losing my side mirrors. With no foreseeable damage done to my car, I deleted Geico from my speed dial and headed inside for my reservation.
Looking over their endless list of appetizers and antipasti, I was torn. After much deliberation, I decided to order a standard appetizer instead: Funghi Portobello ai Ferri – Large grilled Portobello mushroom caps baked with goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted peppers and crispy pancetta wheels (pictured above). Honestly, I’m usually not too fond of baked stuffed mushrooms because they remind me of tacky, unappetizing wedding hors’ d’oeuvres. But Siena’s version is NOT your standard baked stuffed mushrooms; their rendition is magnifico. The Portobello mushrooms are a great vehicle for the various flavors and textures of the other ingredients. The saltiness from the goat cheese pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The star of the dish, however, was another ingredient…pancetta! Each wheel was sliced paper-thin which led to a savory, crispy finish. The pancetta was purposely wheel-shaped in order to take up the ENTIRE Portobello mushroom and allowed me to have it in every bite. My only complaint was that I was only given two mushrooms but they were so rich I’m not sure I could have eaten many more.
For my entrée, I ordered “Branzino” which was a pan-seared Chilean sea bass filet finished with ocean scallops and a creamy scallion sauce and a side of Risotto Bianco. The Chilean sea bass was cooked perfectly and it was light and flaky as you would expect. However, something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it could have used some acidity in place of the creamy scallion sauce which was somewhat bland.
I was also disappointed by the size of my exotic catch. My sea bass was mostly hidden by the garnish and it was served alongside polenta and peppers to give the illusion that the plate was full. I enjoyed the risotto which was smooth and velvety from the Parmigiano-Reggiano. From a technical aspect, Siena’s risotto was thicker than it should have been (creamy risotto should spread easily on a plate) and it clumped together like oatmeal. I still enjoyed the overall taste and thought it was a fair price for only $4 for a side (serves 2 people).
My fiancé was kind enough to let me try her dish too. She excitedly chose “Maiale con Pere” which was a Pork tenderloin marinated in garlic and amaretto, grilled and topped with a pear, almond, brown sugar and amaretto glaze. This dish was amazing! Pork is the type of protein that plays well with sweet elements and it was truly complimented by the various sugars in the dish. It was not overly sweet and the pairing of the amaretto glaze and pear were in perfect balance. The charred, smoky flavor from the grill marks on the pork may have also helped this cause. The pork itself was incredibly tender and moist. Unlike the other dishes, the portion of the pork was generous and we were unable to finish it all.
Siena is a nice, romantic restaurant, especially for Valentine’s Day or any special occasion for that matter. We enjoyed our experience as the food and service were both exceptional. I would recommend Siena to anyone looking for some traditional Italian dishes with a contemporary twist. Just remember, you may want to go elsewhere if you have a big appetite. This is not your standard Italian restaurant with large portions of Chicken Parm and Spaghetti. But if you are in the mood for creative, great tasting dishes, take a gondola ride over to Siena. Ciao!
(above photo courtesy of http://www.hangrypants.com)