This Chambersburg restaurant makes the grade and then some.
By: Pat Tanner
I have to admit that until several people whose culinary judgment I respect told me that Amici Milano was their favorite Italian restaurant in Chambersburg, I would never have checked it out. Why? Simple prejudice: I receive discount coupons to Amici’s in those packets that come in the mail the ones that also have deals on car washes, chiropractors and window shades. I am of the opinion that a fine restaurant would not need to resort to this form of advertising. Well, the folks at Amici’s must have their reasons, but a lack of customers, a respected reputation or fine food are not among them.
Amici’s extensive menu has all the rich pasta, veal and seafood dishes expected at an Italian restaurant with ambition in other words, lots of dishes with things like creamy sauces flavored with vodka or brandy, artichoke hearts and prosciutto. The difference at Amici’s is that they manage to avoid coming off as too many heavy ingredients trying to make an impression.
While I still gravitate toward the less rich or extravagant dishes, I was impressed with every dish I tried. Take, for example, the soup of the day: a creamy chicken and vegetable soup that, oh yes, also contained chunks of sausage and lots of parmesan. Rich, yes, but not thick or gummy; it turned out to be just the ticket on a frigid winter night.
Less filling were three appetizer salads, each of which was an expert marriage of fresh ingredients and a dressing that enhanced them perfectly. The special was a mix of arugula, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and small shrimp lightly tossed in a nutty, sweet balsamic vinaigrette ($8). My salad of scungilli ($7) was notable for tender squares of conch bathed only in a lovely olive oil that let the delicate flavor of the mollusk shine through. Hearts of palm and artichokes ($6) were likewise dressed in a tasty vinaigrette ($6). Among the appetizers are standard offerings such as clams casino, mussels marinara, and fried calamari, all at $6.
Amici’s is proud of its extensive wine list, which is properly heavy on Italian wines, most (but by no means all) from big, long-standing producers like Bolla, Antinori and Ruffino. Prices are fair $30 for Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, $18 for Duboeuf Macon Villages and I like that the Italian wines are listed by geographic region. American wines range from Paul Masson (the house wine) to excellent bottlings like Far Niente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (each $59).
I’m beginning to think that the Chambersburg Restaurant Association must mandate how all Italian restaurants in Trenton are decorated. The apparent requirements include pink (preferably rose or mauve) as the predominant color and garlands of fake flowers and greenery intertwined with tiny white Christmas lights cascading over and around the room’s architecture. Oh, and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. I don’t have anything against any of this, it’s just that their ubiquity is spooky. Amici’s actually consists of two long, thin attractive rooms whose adjoining wall is a series of French doors that are left open. The restaurant also has a grand piano, and a pianist provides soft background music several nights a week. Amici’s has not one, but two private parking lots nearby.
Despite a large menu, the restaurant also offers a mind-boggling array of specials each night. These are, unfortunately, recited by the servers in great detail but without price. However, our server, an attractive young man, was happy to repeat them as many times as we requested. The specials are priced noticeably higher than the regular fare, but they are still moderate. Whereas plain pasta dishes like cheese ravioli or linguine puttanesca will set you back $9 and most veal dishes $15, the specials we tried ranged from $17 to $23. But for that we got things such as a massive platter of seafood and angel hair that included lobster, two sizes of scallops and jumbo shrimp, and another dish that one companion rather mysteriously called "the second best salmon I’ve ever had."
The salmon was the biggest surprise since it featured a cream sauce flavored with Framboise and studded with fresh raspberries to my mind a potentially disastrous combination. The sauce turned out to be light and not too sweet. The salmon came to the table with an interior too translucent for the comfort of my companion who ordered it, so she sent it back. Much to the credit of the kitchen, it returned to our table perfectly cooked through but still moist and intact.
My favorite dish, though, was my relatively lighter and simpler chicken Calabrese ($12). Lots of thin slabs of breast and button mushrooms were sautéed then doused with a garlicky white wine sauce that contained chunks of fresh plum tomatoes and cross-cut Italian green beans. At the other end of the spectrum was a veal special consisting of two rolls of breaded cutlet filled with a rich mixture of mozzarella, broccoli, prosciutto and shredded crab meat topped with a rich creamy pink vodka sauce strewn with mushrooms and sautéed broccoli rabe. A little went a long way, obviously. The broccoli rabe was seriously over-salted the only misstep from the kitchen all evening.
The litmus test of any Italian restaurant is, to my mind, its tomato sauce. I am happy to report that Amici’s pencil points in meat sauce passed the test deliciously.
Despite a note that says otherwise, most desserts seem to be purchased elsewhere, but they are very good nonetheless. We skipped the house-made tiramisu and opted for a frozen ball of chocolate and raspberry tartuffo ($4.25) and a plate of three exemplary mini-cannoli ($4.25). Espresso was exquisite.
I am happy to finally count myself a loyal amica of Amici Milano. I may even use my coupon next time.