Sunday, January 24, 2010

Amore Restaurant

I’m always surprised and delighted when I’ve put on my dubious skeptic hat about something or someone, and in the end I’m proven wrong. This goes a very long way in hammering home the truth that even I am sometimes reluctant to bow down to: I really don’t know all that there is to know.

After a particularly disastrous dinner on Saturday night (if you’ve read the Madonia piece, you know what I’m referring to) my taste buds were quite skittish about food. But hunger has a way of overriding even the most determined of mouths. I should have been preparing myself for a delicious home cooked meal of baked tilapia and vegetables that my husband promised to cook. And I would have enjoyed that, too, had it not been for Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, host Guy Fieri, and a particularly mouth-watering pizza-with-a-twist (Beef on Weck). Now, take into account the following facts: 1) While a beef on weck sandwich is a tradition in Western New York, I’ve never heard of it; 2) The folks at Pizza Junction in upstate NY turned this sandwich into a pizza; and 3) I don’t even eat beef but I was seconds away from licking my TV screen at the mere sight of that pizza.

None of that matters. What does matter is that that was one damn good looking pizza staring at me from The Food Network, and it got the whole notion of pizza for dinner stuck in my head. Oh, believe me, I tried to push the dangerous thoughts out of my cranium, I really did. But the temptation was just too strong. So I may have dropped one teensy, tiny, itty-bitty hint to my husband that pizza just would not let me be. That was all it took. Apparently, as much as he loves me, Maarten didn’t give a flying flip about cooking dinner for me, hence his hasty retreat to the computer in our home office in a bid to locate a decent pizza joint in Stamford.

Without getting too immersed in reviews, we decided on Amore Restaurant, which, according to Stamford Pizza Tour’s Leaderboard, scored the highest in the “Hits the Spot” category. One major plus for the restaurant is that it is only two miles from our house.

Yeah, I wanted really good pizza, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we walked inside Amore. After last night’s Italian fiasco, I was loath to dare to dream big—I was not in the mood for cardboard. But Amore is more than just a pizza joint; it was a bona fide restaurant, serving things other than pizza.

Alas, I must admit that my reputation precedes me and my penchant for cheese is slowly becoming common knowledge in and around Stamford. Prior to deciding on Amore, I called ahead to inquire into whether they made white pizzas. I may have let it slip to the chef, whom I spoke with only briefly, that I loved cheese and was particularly interested in a Quattro Formaggi pizza. Maybe it was the look of a cheese lover in my eyes, but as soon as the chef and I locked eyes when I walked in, he exclaimed “Ahhhh…you must be the cheese lady.” Henceforth at Amore, I shall be known as “The Cheese Lady”.

I ordered a glass of house Pinot Grigio while we looked over the menu. As Italian fare menus go, it was comparatively standard—in bold letters was the name of a dish (and usually one that I couldn’t pronounce without slow and deliberate concentration, such as “Orecchiette Alla Abruzzese” or “Tutto Di Mare”), and below that a description of what the dish really is (in the case of the aforementioned dishes, a Broccoli Rapa, Sausage, Sun Dried Tomato, Spicy Oil and Garlic pasta dish, and Fish of the Day).

Would I be so bold as to even order a starter? Of course I would. We’re talking about ME, remember? So I ordered the Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato (a dish which I know commonly as caprese), and Maarten ordered Mozzarella Fritta. I must admit a slight chill did run the course of my spine when he spoke the words, considering the very bland mozzarella fritta that I had the night before. But this was a totally different restaurant and, once again, those high hopes crept into view.

While we waited for the appetizers, our waitress, Gertrude, placed a small basket of bread on the table alongside a small bowl filled with pats of butter. Since I was bound and determined to have pizza for dinner, I wasn’t too concerned about loading up on bread; however, there was a plank of buttery looking bread in the basket that was calling my name. It would be terribly rude of me not to answer, so I picked up the bread and took a bite. I'm not sure what kind of spice was rubbed on the top of that bread, but it was absolutely delicious. His curiosity aroused by my moaning and groaning, Maarten tried the other piece of bread and enjoyed it just as much as I did. Note to self: Find out what was on that bread.

Soon the appetizers arrived and were placed in front of us by a smiling Gertrude. Gertrude is what can be called “an establishment within an establishment”. She is a character of sorts, with a slightly gravelly voice, an easy smile and a sharp sense of humor—she is the white Italian grandmother that I never had. Amore has been around for thirty-two years, and Gertrude has been working the floors for twenty-four of those years, all in the same location. It would be a misnomer to refer to her as “spry” because that would presume that she is fast approaching 100 years old and moves like greased lightning. But she does have a quality about her that makes you want to say “You go girl!” when you see her zip about the restaurant.

My caprese, with fresh basil and olive oil, was delicious. When you think about it, it’s pretty difficult to screw up a caprese salad, but, believe me, people have succeeded in making it rather funky. The caprese at Amore is now one of my favorites, second only to the more flavorful caprese that I dined on at Trattoria Vittoria in Venice, Italy.

The Mozzarella Fritta that stared back at me from across the table was simple, but delicious. Who knew that four triangles of breaded and fried cheese could be so good? The cheese was super fresh with just enough elasticity to be a bit playful without the threat of snapping back on you and putting an eye out. Now that's the way to begin an Italian meal—well, when you’re two non-Italians dining out on a Sunday night in Stamford, CT, that is.

So far, the evening was on a high note. And that note soared even higher for me when the pizzas arrived. A woman of my word, I had ordered Quattro Formaggi while Maarten created his own pizza from the ground up with his choice of toppings—prosciutto, broccoli and mushrooms. Since those are three food items that I would never intentionally eat (and would be hard-pressed to consume on a dare or under duress), I believe my loving husband, the man I vowed to love forever and ever, just didn't want me anywhere near his pizza!

Ahhhh, Quattro Formaggi—my lovely four cheese pizza loaded with mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola and provolone. I didn’t even need meat or veggies on this pizza. People tend to think that a plain cheese pizza is, well, boring. And perhaps, in an alternate universe, it is. But not in my world. In Food Houndette Land—where seasoned Dungeness crabs sidle right up to you and jump in a pot without compunction, and peanut butter and jelly comes pre-swirled in the same jar, and graham crackers always break on the perforated line—simple is sometimes better.

I admire the genius who thought to combine four cheeses of different tastes and textures together on one pizza. And I admire Amore for carrying on the tradition of great pizza. The crust was thin, crispy and buttery. Okay, so there were a few spots of crust that were a bit overdone, but even burnt is good here. The overall effect, cheese comingled with olive oil, was magnificent.

Maarten's do-it-yourself pizza, another thin crust beauty, was loaded with toppings. The broccoli was fresh and plentiful, the mushrooms were plump and the prosciutto had a nice aroma. By and large, it was a mouth-watering looking pizza and, according to Maarten, it tasted as good as it looked.

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience at Amore Restaurant. It isn't a fancy-smancy place with an upturned nose maitre d' waiting to pass judgment on you. In fact, Amore is far from it. It is a comfortable little spot that alternates bopping 50's style music with beautiful Italian melodies from the speakers, it has a wonderful, attentive staff, and Amore tops all of that goodness off with great food. Amore will be our pizza restaurant of choice in Stamford.

Would I recommend Amore Restaurant? If you’re in the mood for cardboard pizza with few toppings and even less flavor, then don’t go to Amore. If, however, your mouth is watering for a delicious thin crust pizza that’s bursting with an abundance of taste, Amore is the place to go. And while you’re there, be sure to say hello to Gertrude, and tell her “The Cheese Lady” sent you!

Is Amore a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Amore is a terrific value. The prices are extremely reasonable, especially when held up against the fantastic food that can be had. Appetizers range from $8.95-$9.95; there are plenty of sides, salads and soups to pick from; pasta dishes are between $14.95 and $16.95; and along with the seafood, entrées, sandwiches and pizza, there is a wide selection from which to choose.

What about atmosphere and ambience? Don’t go to Amore expecting super fancy. This is not to say it’s a dungeon-like hole in the wall. In fact, it's a very nice looking restaurant, with white table cloths and tiny vases on each table. There are no pretentions here. It’s a family-styled eatery with a warm staff. At times, the music was a little loud (especially when, out of nowhere, an unexpected rendition of The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” exploded from the speakers!), but, if anything, you’ll find yourself humming along to a tune rather than complaining about it.

Amore Restaurant
921 Hope Street, Stamford, CT (203) 357-0836
Amore is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, and dinner only on Saturday and Saturday

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