Passing through Cohasset Village in the dead of winter, it’s easy to forget that there is, in fact, life on Earth. Welcome, then, are the lights in Ava Cucina, the warmth of its husband-and-wife owners, and the wonderful length of hot radiators they installed beneath the tables.
This is the former, well-loved Bernard’s restaurant, now a good, affordable, family-style Italian spot. With Vincent Agostino in the kitchen, wife Annette running the front of the house, and the couple’s five grown children working the place on and off, this is truly a family affair.
The renovations the Agostinos made before opening the restaurant last summer are exactly what the site needed to make the small, European-style restaurant a welcoming, pretty place.
Large terra cotta-colored floor tiles have replaced the old, worn carpets. Wooden half-walls, too, fill in for the tired multi-colored curtains that used to divide the upper dining area and bar from the sun room, and a serious restructuring has created a hallway to the restroom so customers no longer have to go through the kitchen to wash their hands.
The menu is smartly small and manageable, divided into a handful each of appetizers, pasta, chicken, veal, fish, and pizza, augmented with a few daily specials. Ava Cucina, Italian for grandmother’s kitchen, serves mostly large portions, like Vincent’s father’s Hull restaurant, Mezzo Mare.
I’ve eaten at the restaurant four times, and didn’t warm to the food until I hit upon the white-sauced pastas and several of the lighter choices.
One of them is the delicious sautéed mussels ($9) in a white wine, lemon, and garlic sauce. Also good is one of the restaurant’s regular winter specials — pasta fagioli ($5) — a simple, nourishing blend of mostly tomatoes, white beans, and elbow macaroni.
The shrimp scampi over linguini ($19) offered a more complex dish, done beautifully. The extra large shrimp were perfectly cooked (making them springy and lovely), the pasta nicely al dente, and the delicious white wine sauce deep and dimensional with a layered balance of flavors.
My dining partner on one visit felt like he’d been given a gift when lovely, small green salads arrived, unannounced, as they do with all the entrees. The idea here is clear: a fresh green salad is a given in any good family meal.
Also at the top of our list was a tasty evening special: the stuffed pork tenderloin ($19), served with Ava Cucina’s signature roast vegetables. On a prior visit, I’d excitedly ordered these vegetables only to find them looking great with grill marks, but undercooked and dry.
So, while ordering them with the pork, I told our server of my previous experience and asked if she could make sure that they were well cooked this time. The kitchen complied and I loved the big lot of them: a long cut of potato; large rounds of zucchini and eggplant; three big broccoli florets; two large hunks of red and green pepper; and roasted garlic cloves!
The spaghetti with meat sauce ($14) is rich with stewing meat, a large meatball, and too much red sauce for my taste, although there is plenty of nourishment to find on the plate.
The haddock limone ($20) is a large filet thick with breading and much more than the drizzle of creamy lemon sauce the menu advertises. It was tasty but overly dressed; less would be more here.
After the meal, it’s easy to linger over the delicious house-made cannoli ($4) and less easy to leave the warmth of the Agostino family and the radiators beneath the tables.