Sunday, March 24, 2013

It was all about the Calamari. . . But Let's Talk About the Pasta Too!

Da Francesco's Italian Cuisine and Tavern: A Macomb County Gem

Delicious Hearty Italian Food and Great Service

It was a Saturday night and the consensus was that we wanted a good calamari appetizer but didn't want to go to the usual suspects. My husband recalled that we had a great carry out experience with good friends on their side of town - Shelby Township - that included a wonderful calamari with a lemon sauce. It must have been pretty good calamari for him to decide - impromptu - that we should drive about 40 minutes to go there.

Reservations at Da Francesco's is key. We called in on our way down there - there is not a large waiting area and on a chilly Michigan spring evening you want to try to plan a little ahead. . .

Calamari - with Lemon Sauce (gravy boat) and Ammoglio
Once we were seated - the wait with call ahead was not long, especially considering that there was a wedding party in a banquet room - the wait staff was extremely attentive. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass. While most folks probably would lean towards a red, they had my favorite, Moscato Di Asti, which was fresh and sparkling. The calamari was our first dish and did not disappoint. We ordered it with the lemon sauce on the side due to one diner in our party (namely an 8 year old girl who ended up loving it) but they also included a side of Ammoglio as well. I consider Ammoglio the Italian version of salsa and a mainstay. There ammoglio is very good, and wonderful with the bread sticks and Italian bread that also were provided to us.

Most of the main entrees come with both your choice of soup AND salad. We chose the Chicken Pastini that was offered that day, along with Minestrone, and it was wonderful. It was a hearty chicken broth loaded with vegetables and pieces of chicken along with those tiny pasta balls (Acini de pepe?). The two large bowls were passed around the table to share. We might have ordered a quart to go too in anticipation of leftovers today. I'm not going to confirm that. The salad was also very good, with a spring mix, crisp cucumbers and chickpeas adorning it. The blue cheese dressing was very fresh and creamy.

The kids both ordered fettuccine Alfredo from the kid's menu but there were other choices such as chicken tenders and gnocchi, as well as spaghetti with a giant meatball to review. They were very generous portions of fresh homemade noodles and a rich creamy sauce that was not overpowering with the Parmesan cheese. By the time the pasta did arrive, one kid already declared that she was "stuffed" and couldn't eat another bite due to the full glass of chocolate milk, bread and bread sticks, calamari and soup. Both kids had plenty of pasta to bring home for Sunday lunch which is always a nice bonus as long as the food focuses on taste and not just quantity. This was definitely an example of both - delicious and generous.

We also ordered gnocchi, asking to swap out the creamy palomino sauce for an Alfredo. My husband really enjoyed the dish. The gnocchi was definitely fresh and I have to say some of the best I have had with a wonderful texture. I personally would have preferred it with the standard sauce they offered because with the Alfredo it was so very rich that after a few bites I don't think I could have eaten anymore. Hence, the large amount of leftovers with this as well. For the reheat, we will be adding some bacon and peas to make a sort of pseudo carbonara dish. It's always about the leftovers.

I ordered the Vitello Di Bosco, sauteed veal medallions in a wine sauce (reminiscent of a Marsala but it was another red wine?) with wild mushrooms, spinach and pine nuts. This was delicious and featured very large, meaty wild mushrooms that added to the heartiness of the dish. Did I mention I had leftovers? There were actually quite a few veal dishes to pick from (the menu is extensive and I felt like I had a lot of wonderful options to choose) and I plan on trying the Vitello Contronese next which features a brandy contronese cheese cream sauce that is flambeed.

I forgot to mention that my dish also came with a side of pasta - penne with a hearty meat sauce (I know I have said hearty again) that was also very good, with shredded Parmesan on top. At my count, with the soup, salad, pasta and the main dish, I had a four course Italian feast even without the appetizer.

The waitstaff was extremely attentive, bringing refills and anticipating needs of the group. The leftovers were boxed up for us and we were provided with a large bag to carry out booty. Some readers may think it's strange I mention that but based on experiences elsewhere, when a dish did not make it home, I can tell you that is worth a lot to me! 

I also tried a cannoli  for dessert and they are worth the fat and calories there. Fresh, made to order, with wonderful cinnamon flavoring with a thick marscapone filling were awesome. I am sad that I didn't take a picture but I think the carb coma has set in.

All in all, this restaurant was wonderful and comparable in prices to some chains offering similar fare without the fresh taste and quality. Portions are equitable to those chains as well without the "take home an extra classic pasta"' gimmick. We seriously WANTED to find something wrong with the experience so we won't have to drive out there again but we didn't. We will be back, passing countless other Italian restaurants on the way as we make the 40 minute trek to Shelby Township. It was worth it in every way.

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