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DINING OUT

Good eating, free parking

Ristorante Molise

466 Main St., Wakefield

781-245-9169

Tuesday through Sunday, 4 to 9:30 p.m.; closed Monday

Major credit cards accepted

Accessible to the handicapped

Antoinetta DiLemme and Elisa Zullo remind me of my aunts -- warm, welcoming, and always wanting to serve their guests something wonderful to eat. The two sisters have been doing so at their Wakefield restaurant for 15 years.

Steady customers, and there are legions, count on Molise for its friendly, attentive service, its home-style cooking, and its reasonable prices. This is a great place to visit if you're in the mood for some terrific Italian food on a weekend night and want to avoid crowds and high prices.

Molise benefits from its location in Wakefield Square, with plenty of parking right out front. Seldom have we had to wait more than 20 minutes for a table, but when we do, we belly up to the bar or take a table in the lounge and relax.

Before long, we're in one of three dining rooms, seated at a cloth-covered table surrounded by posters of Italian landscapes. Though the lights are low and the floor is carpeted , the noise level is moderate, and occasionally raucous when large parties gather. But we endure because the food is wonderful.

On a recent Saturday night, we enjoyed two outstanding appetizers -- portabellas alla Eduardo ($6.99), the large grilled mushrooms covered with roasted vegetable stuffing, gorgonzola cheese, and a pesto cream sauce; and carciofi fritti ($7.99), artichoke hearts that were dipped in egg batter and saut eed in a wine sauce. The portions were large enough and the flavors so intense that, with a side Caesar salad and a glass of wine, it would have sufficed as a lovely dinner.

So, ordering entr ees seemed somewhat gluttonous , but we went ahead. The lengthy entr ee menu features some unique pasta, chicken, veal, and seafood dishes. For example, it includes pasta alla Molise ($15.99) -- a dish of egg fettuccine tossed with roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, whole roasted garlic cloves, and marinara sauce -- and pollo valdostana ($16.99) -- chicken scallopini saut eed with mushrooms, shallots, spinach, and fresh sage, baked with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese in a basil wine sauce.

Most entr ees are under $20. The seafood-laden cioppino tops out at $22.99.

So many tempting choices. We were in the mood for seafood and ordered Salmone Picasso ($17.99), a large, fresh filet of salmon saut eed with artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, and capers in a zesty lemon wine sauce.

We also tried the gamberi con broccoletti ($19.99), five tender jumbo shrimp saut eed with garlic, broccoli, and wine sauce tossed with penne pasta, Romano cheese, and fresh basil. Both entr ees were bountiful and flavorful, though the salmon was served with a side of pasta (we ordered penne) and tomato sauce that really didn't complement the dish. A side of rice or roasted potatoes would have been a better choice. A Caesar salad ($2.25) was a cut or two above the norm, the lettuce crisp and the homemade dressing delightfully zesty.

On this night, we skipped dessert, too full to be tempted with homemade cannoli or tiramisu. Certainly there will be other opportunities.

PHIL SANTORO

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