Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of the times I sat at my grandmother’s kitchen table watching her combine a steaming pile of riced potatoes with raw eggs and flour. She would then knead the doughy mixture on a massive wooden cutting board, hand-roll pieces of the heavy lump into long strips, and then finally cut those into dozens of delicate little potato dumplings called gnocchi. [See video below for correct pronunciation.]
Gnocchi is a rustic and simple Italian dish that is frustratingly difficult to make properly. Add too much flour and you get something more akin to lead ingots than delicate, succulent, potato based pillows. Too little flour and the dumplings transform into a runny mess in the boil. But if the ingredients are combined in just the right proportions the result is exquisite culinary alchemy. Although Grandmother Fulvi never measured ingredients, her gnocchi always turned out perfectly.
Today whenever I see gnocchi listed on an Italian restaurant’s menu I can’t resist choosing it as an entrée. Most times this ends in disappointment. One time I chose the dish at a ubiquitous national chain. “I’ll have the gnocchi,” I told the gum-smacking waitress.
“The gnocchi,” I said again.
I pointed to a spot on the menu.
“Oh,” she said. “The nacky.” I should have known better.
This past Sunday, Barb and I went to Amore Tratorria Italiana, a relatively new restaurant housed in an old building on Alpine Avenue just south of Six Mile Road. “Doesn’t look too promising,” my wife said after we parked and were walking up to the front door.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” I replied.
When inside, we were immediately greeted by a smiling hostess and promptly seated. Seconds later our server appeared with a basket of focaccia bread and a cruet of olive oil. I half listened while she described the specials, choosing instead to focus my attention on the appetizers and the exclusively Italian wine list. Barb suggested we try the cozze, “mussels cooked in white wine with garlic, tomatoes, lemon, parsley and a touch of anisette” ($9.00). I chose a bottle of L’Astore Primitivo ($36.00) to accompany our meal and told our server that we would look at the entrees after the appetizer.
While waiting for the wine and mussels we looked around the room. An eclectic assortment of artwork adorns the rustic-red and gold painted walls. Booths line two of those walls and tables are spaced nicely around the mostly carpeted room that has a wood section in the middle appearing to have once served as a dance floor. On each table and booth was a vase holding a single—and real—red rose.
When our server appeared with our wine she properly presented the bottle, opened it, and then poured the wine through an aerator into a decanter. A nice touch. A heaping bowl of mussels were then delivered to the table. Since the description on the menu indicated that the mussels were prepared in white wine we were surprised when they came out swimming in a red sauce. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The sauce, with its subtle anise flavor, was excellent and we soaked up every drop with the focaccia bread.
While we were finishing the appetizer I turned my attention to the entrees and it was then that I saw that one of the offerings was gnocchi.
“How’s the gnocchi?” I asked the server.
“It’s very good.”
“Is it frozen?”
“Of course not,” she replied. “The kitchen makes it fresh from scratch every day.”
The gnocchi ($10.00) turned out to be very good indeed. Diners have the option of ordering the dish with a four cheese, Bolognese, vodka or pesto cream sauce. I chose the Bolognese. For her entrée Barb chose the involtini, thinly sliced breaded eggplant stuffed with a four cheese blend, baked with tomato sauce and cheese ($15.00). It too was very good.
I give Amore Tratorria Italiana an emphatic thumbs up. The restaurant sources many ingredients locally and it is evident, as stated on the website, that the owners are committed to providing an experience and not simply a meal. Well prepared food, excellent service, good prices and an extensive wine list all combine to create that experience. I have no doubts that we’ll soon be back for another.
Amore Tratorria Italiana is located at 5080 Alpine Avenue, Comstock Park, Michigan, 616-785-5344.