With all the new restaurant openings in and around Bristol, make sure you don’t forget the tried and true stalwarts. Roberto’s has been serving classic Italian dishes with a “light touch” for over 14 years. The restaurant did relocate a few years ago, moving across the Hope Street parade route and toward the State Street intersection in the heart of downtown. The current space is a fresh update to a classic.
Aesthetically, the restaurant’s vibe is smart, casual and mellow – a romantic date, a business meal and a family gathering could all be seated side by side. The bar seating and warm lighting are notable improvements to the old location. Functionally, there have been some welcome additions in the form of outdoor patio seating for when the weather breaks and a 50-seat banquet room that is available for special events.
While the look may have changed, the quality of food did not, and our group of four braved a bone-chilling evening to sample the wares. For starters, we were craving some Calamari ($11) but were torn between fried or sautéed. Our waitress emphatically recommended fried, and fortunately our mild guilt was mitigated by the light, non-greasy coating. Both versions of calamari come topped with olives, plum tomatoes, pepperoncini, pancetta and a creamy garlic citrus aioli. This concoction has some bite to it, but it’s a welcome departure from more common and less exciting presentations that are simply accompanied by a side of marinara sauce.
We also shared the Bruschetta of the Day ($8), topped with mushrooms, red pepper and goat cheese. The finger-food-sized servings were creamy, mild and savory – a good counter-balance to the kick of the calamari. Finally, I hogged to myself a Roasted Beet Salad ($12), mixed with citrus, arugula, walnut praline and goat cheese arancini. Overall it was a light and simple salad with a great blend of textures from the warm, melt-in-your-mouth arancini and touch of crunch from the walnut praline.
There is a wide selection of entrees that will appeal to diverse moods and tastes. Several dishes can be prepared with either chicken or veal, with familiar names like Carbonara, Parmagiano, Piccata and Marsala. We tried the Cacciatore Olivia ($25), a veal dish made with mushrooms, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, red wine tomato sauce and linguine. The veal was tender and expertly prepared. Some dishes in this part of the menu can also be prepared as a pasta, which we did with the Nina as just penne with sauce ($15). This hearty and delicious take on “a la vodka” included plum tomatoes, spinach, shallots and pink vodka cream sauce.
From the pasta and seafood section, we went with the Shrimp Scampi ($24), made with garlic, fresh basil, plum tomatoes and linguine. We were pleased to see a generous amount of shrimp – both in size and quantity – and garlic fans in particular will enjoy this dish’s flavor. Finally, we tried a house specialty that I had already scoped out days in advance – Roberto’s Braciole ($29). There are a limited amount of servings on any given night, and we were fortunate to get one of the last three. Veal medallions are stuffed with ricotta cheese, pine nuts and mushrooms in what looks like two, large, Italian egg rolls. These are accompanied by lingonberry and roasted garlic demi, whipped potatoes and a seasonal vegetable. This was probably the most filling of the entrees, but my plate was nearly spotless by the time our waitress cleared the table.
The worst decision of the night was ordering only one serving of Gelato ($8) for four people. The creamy peanut butter-flavored gelato with brownie chunks was exceptional, and by itself worth a trip back. If it’s too cold for you to be thinking about gelato (although it’s never too cold for gelato), the connoisseurs of our group made a point of praising their hot chocolate nightcaps.
For a true value, check out Roberto’s on a Tuesday night. For starters, it’s a Pasta Night (Sunday through Thursday) where five different chicken and seafood dishes are on special for $15. On top of that, you’ll be able to enjoy jazz music from Paul Del Nero, who plays from 6-9pm. Italian and jazz? A classic combination.
450 Hope Street