43 Shelburne Shopping Park, Shelburne, 985-1117
It was one of those restaurant spaces that always seemed to have something good. Remember Fibonacci's with its pizzas topped according to the mathematical principle? Somehow, though, I still hadn't made it to Cucina Antica in its more than half-decade of life.
I liked it immediately, right down to the tablecloths decorated with turn-of-last-century ads. Remember the table tops at Wendy's in the '80s? This was a similar blast from the past, but this time I was old enough to read and appreciate the promised wonders of the "Princess Bust Developer."
Things got even better when a wood bowl filled with warm, crusty bread arrived. The oil that waited on the table to be poured for dipping was beautifully muddled with Italian herbs and garlic.
My first impression of the menu: This place is lobster central. There were salads, sandwiches, pastas and pizza all filled with knuckles and claws. Since I was trying to keep things thrifty, none of them made it to my table, but I was impressed.
I was excited for the Greek food. Greek plate? Yes, please. I started by digging into the spanakopita, which was chock-full of feta, perhaps a little too much so. Though the phyllo crust was crisp top and bottom, the pie was somewhat dry overall and lacking a certain something.
There were tons of feta on the Greek salad, too. The very fresh mesclun mix and cherry tomatoes were nice but didn't really telegraph the Mediterranean to me. The dressing, mostly olive oil with some herbs floating in it, lacked the necessary tang, as well.
When I saw that the plate included skewered lamb or chicken, I was surprised that both options cost the same amount. That's because the lamb turned out to be gyro meat. I should have figured that out, but I was a little disappointed nonetheless. Once I tasted it, though, I was perfectly happy. The loaf was sliced thicker than gyro meat usually is, leaving it nice and moist. The seasoning was pretty ideal: salty, garlicky and savory. Stuffed into a chunk of chewy pita and dipped in creamy tzatziki, it was a true pleasure.
The pizza we tried was good, too. It was hard to choose from among all the appealing specialties. We settled on the "Camel's Hump," a pesto base topped with roasted chicken, pine nuts, super-sweet caramelized onions and even more cherry tomatoes. The shipment must have just come in.
The pie was flavorful but topped somewhat unevenly. Chicken and tomatoes were in fine supply, but the onions were distributed sparingly.
We nearly skipped dessert, but I'm glad we didn't. We eschewed the three regular options (tiramisu, cannoli and lemon cake) in favor of a rich chocolate special.
First of all, I loved the Sweeney Todd-style plate decoration. The raspberry coulis was sparse enough that it didn't add much flavor, but the style points were through the roof. The cake itself was an orgy of chocolate pleasures: cake, mousse, ganache and chocolate chunks. I hope it becomes more than a visitor to the menu.
That's because I will return. With more money to burn next time, I look forward to trying a fresh pasta dish or a more left-field pizza. Either way, I'm assuming lobster will make an appearance.
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