Food: Three stars
Address: 1067 South Hover Road, Longmont
Contact: 303-485-6240 or capresetrattoria.com
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.day- Saturday
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Moderate, and not as bad as I thought it would be, what with all the hard surfaces. I'm also somewhat glad that they resisted the temptation to have an ambient opera or Sinatra soundtrack in the background.
Even during midweek, dinner service at Longmont's Caprese Trattoria attracts the kind of crowds for which most other restaurants would give their eyeteeth on a bustling weekend evening.
This sit down eatery occupies the strip mall space formerly inhabited by Basil Flats, making for a large, hard surfaced dining room with a modern but vaguely rustic feel.
Despite the crowds, a friend and I were promptly seated, although it took longer than it should have for our server to take our initial drink orders. But once the ball got rolling, service for the rest of the meal remained timely.
The menu here is expansive. While other Italian restaurant bills of fare might be considered a greatest hits collection of classic items, Caprese's voluminous offerings are comparable to a deluxe multi-album box set. Nearly every imaginable pasta dish seems to be on tap, some with meat and some without, and gluten-free noodles are available for an additional $3. Pizza, soups, salads, antipasto of all sorts are also available, as well as entrees spotlighting seafood, beef, poultry and trout.
Given this spot's moniker, it seemed eating here without sampling a caprese course would be akin to visiting Rome without taking in the Colosseum. Consequently, we started the meal with the $7 classica preparation, a traditional mix of mozzarella, fresh tomato, basil and olive oil accompanied by salad greens. While the tomatoes weren't of the quality one would find at the peak of summer, they were as good as could be expected for early autumn. Flavorful and ripe with a hint of firmness, they were a fine foil to the exquisite house made mozzarella. Marvelously creamy and tender in texture, this simple but satisfying cheese is without local peer.
Two other starter small plates were also praiseworthy. The $6 arancini consisted of one impressively large ball of fried short grain Arborio rice topped with full-bodied Bolognese sauce.
The exterior was hot and crisp, while the rich risotto interior struck the ideal balance between creamy and al dente consistency. A $5 dish of homemade polpette, or meatballs, was everything you'd want in this dish, featuring optimal seasoning, moist but light texture, and smooth meaty flavor. Based on my experience with this course, I'm likely to order the spaghetti and meatballs on my next visit.
Less impressive was the $5 minestrone, which would have benefited from a more assertive broth and less overcooking of the vegetables. As far as salads go, the $6 rapa was a fine value for the money, pleasing to both eye and palate. A straightforward foundation of vibrant golden beets and fresh organic greens was pleasantly complemented by crunchy candied walnuts and pungent, but not overwhelming, gorgonzola cheese.
For a main course, my friend opted for a $15 pollo al carbone, a half chicken prepared on the grill while weighed down with a charcoal brick. The rustic simplicity of this poultry carried the day, with a breast that was as moist as one can have while still ensuring adequate cooking of the leg. A side of roast potatoes was perfectly executed, with a hint of crunch on the edges.
Sauteed spinach balanced out the earthiness of the potatoes, and possessed just the right note of fresh crispness.
I was indecisive in selecting a pasta entree, equivocating between the spaghetti and meatballs and clam linguini. Ultimately, I went with our server's suggestion of the $13 rigatoni salsiccia, which she touted as one of the more popular items. While this dish might lack the sophistication of the more rarefied seafood pasta selections, I harbored no regrets about this choice. On a cool autumn night, I couldn't think of anything better than this course's blend of al dente rigatoni, hearty tomato garlic sauce, peppers, and high-quality sausage. The sausage retained a smoother texture than most as well as restrained seasoning that enabled one to fully enjoy the meat's clean savor.
The meal concluded with a $7 gluten-free chocolate torte, which arrived at the table piping hot and freighted with dark cocoa tones, which is just how I like it. In many ways, this dessert drove home Caprese Trattoria's strong points, which include good value and unfussy preparations that are deeply satisfying and carry a high comfort quotient. More to the point, this restaurant could very well be the best of its type in the county. It's a must-visit destination for those who grew up on standard issue red sauce Italian, but are also open to more gourmet offerings.