One of the pleasures of writing reviews for the Boston's Hidden Restaurants site is the occasional discovery of a nearly "perfect" hidden gem in the Greater Boston area--one that not only is almost completely unknown to the general public, but also ranks among the best in its class for food, service, and atmosphere. And so it goes with Vecchia Roma, a charming little Italian dining spot on Route 16 in the Nonantum section of Newton that rivals many if not most of the restaurants in the North End of Boston--and anywhere else in the local area as well.
Vecchia Roma is easy to miss, as it is one of many storefronts along Watertown Street in Nonantum, a heavily Italian section of Newton that is also known as "The Lake" to locals. The restaurant consists of two rooms: The left room (where diners enter) is dark and rather romantic, with exposed brick, a wall mural, and low lights adding much in the way of atmosphere; the right room is a bit brighter and has the feel of an Italian cottage, with pictures and lamps on the pastel-colored walls, an attractive tile floor, and a large curtain stretched along the front window.
The owner and executive chef of Vecchia Roma, who hails from the Abruzzi region of Italy, used to be the head chef at two top restaurants in the North End and went to culinary school in Rome, so the food served at this restaurant is the real deal. The melanzane (eggplant) appetizer, for instance, is simply extraordinary here, with a creamy ricotta filling that contrasts perfectly with the smoky mozzarella cheese and the smooth texture of the eggplant. The sauteed calamari with garlic, hot pepper, and artichokes in white wine is equally good, as are the salads, with a delightful caesar salad leading the way as well as a delicious salad option that includes pieces of cod mixed with roasted red peppers and greens in a mild lemon sauce.
Entrees at Vecchia Roma (depending on the season and specials) include a gnocchi dish with tender pasta pillows in an excellent red sauce; a cannelloni plate (you have to ask for this one) that has ground beef, sweet ricotta cheese, and earthy-tasting spinach stuffed into a fresh rolled-up pasta sheet; veal livornese, which is veal in a tremendously tasty plum tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella added; a chicken breast stuffed with sweet Italian sausage and chestnuts and topped with a mild white wine sauce; an outstanding lasagna made with that same sweet ricotta cheese; a deliciously sticky and creamy chicken and mushroom risotto and an equally good duck risotto; a very impressive veal saltimbocca in a garlic white wine sauce with plenty of mushrooms, savory prosciutto, and sides of potatoes and broccoli; a house-made ravioli dish with porcini mushrooms, asparagus, and sage in a white wine sauce that is one of the best dishes this writer has had anywhere in the Boston area; a nicely-presented linguini con vongole that is loaded with clams steamed in garlic oil and has a touch of heat from the peppers mixed into the dish; a wonderful roast pork stuffed with sausage, asiago cheese, and artichokes in a rich and hearty brown sauce; and a plate of rigatoni with ground beef and dried ricotta cheese, with fennel seeds added that make all the flavors pop out, and a similar rigatoni dish with crumbled sausage, which may be even better than the beef version. And for diners who have room, the desserts at Vecchia Roma include a positively sinful chocolate fondant (lava cake), a similarly rich bomba (which includes chocolate and vanilla ice cream), a silky-tasting tiramisu, and a very nice profiterole (cream puff). Finally, for those who like wine, Vecchia Roma has an extensive list that includes some good reds and whites from Italy.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Vecchia Roma may be one of the best Italian restaurants in the Boston area that nobody has ever heard about; in some ways, it is the ultimate hidden gem, with outstanding food, little in the way of crowds, terrific prices for the type of food offered, and easy street parking out front and across the street. If you like Italian food (and who doesn't?), try not to miss this one.
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