335 Newport Ave., East Providence
Open Tues-Thurs, 4-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat, until 11 p.m.; Sun, 12-8 p.m.
Major credit cards
We weren’t seeking early-bird specials when we arrived at La Rosa before five on a recent Saturday evening. We simply had afternoon and evening commitments in the city and needed to fill the time in between. But as it turned out, the staff at La Rosa was all ready for us, set up since four. What impressed me was that the waitstaff was so friendly and accommodating to our needs, even though we were the very first guests.
Granted, our waitress had to double-check in the kitchen to see what the chef was going to feature for specials that evening, but since we were most interested in the listings in the extensive menu, that didn’t hamper us much. La Rosa has 17 pasta dishes, plus pasta served with all 10 seafood dishes, and you can choose to have pasta with any of the nine veal or eight chicken dishes (two steaks are also available). Just back from an extended road trip to the South, we were comforted to realize, once again, that we would never run out of family-style Italian restaurants in our adopted home state.
From a dozen appetizers, half of which appear on almost every Rhode Island restaurant menu, and half that are specific to Italian-American menus, we chose the least familiar: funghi a funghetto ($9.95), three kinds of mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs. As we settled in to wait for that order, we surveyed the room, whose theme colors were shades of wine: white, rosé and burgundy. Many of the tables had glass covering the tablecloths, but ours just had paper placemats (though linen napkins) atop fabric. In the long, rectangular space, two inner walls were lined halfway up with mirrored panels; on the outside walls, two corner windows had floor-to-ceiling drapes.
In the bar-lounge, where there are a few tables for customers who smoke, there are two flat-screen TVs and a sandwich menu in addition to the dinner options. We were pleased the smoking area was so segregated.
Waves of garlic aroma wafted over us, as our waitress set a large platter of shiitakes, portobellos, and button mushrooms in front of us. The warm, house-made garlic buns and bread, which she had brought just prior to the mushrooms’ arrival, came into their own to sop up the wonderful broth exuded by the mushrooms. I especially appreciated the tenderness of the shiitakes, as they can sometimes be leathery and dry.
Realizing that our entrees would most likely be family-sized, we ate a hefty portion, but set aside the rest to save our appetites. Entrées at La Rosa are served with a choice of soup or salad, so I sampled one and Bill the other. The homemade chicken soup was yummy, and Bill enjoyed the Parmesan-peppercorn salad dressing on his salad, while I snagged the large curls of carrot that he set aside.
Now we were ready for the main attractions: shrimp alla Fra Diavolo ($17.95) for Bill and La Rosa’s own agnolotti ($16.95) for me. Though we could not determine the origin of the shrimp by asking the kitchen (a new quest since reading a book on sustainable seafood), Bill was thrilled to have the spicy hot sauce over fettuccine, with a generous portion of six jumbo shrimp. The sauce had a vibrant heft that we both liked. And the fettuccine was cooked just right.
Unfortunately, that was in stark contrast to my agnolotti. Even Al Dente Man himself found the pasta in these ravioli-like "priests’ hats" to be grossly underdone. I think the problem was that the dough had not been rolled out thin enough, and it would be very hard to get it cooked through once pinched into its hat shape. The filling of ricotta and spinach was quite tasty, though, as was the pink sauce over and around it (you could also choose red sauce for this dish).
About half of the desserts at La Rosa are house-made, and the other half are purchased from a vendor. One of the house-made ones that evening was the seasonal zeppole, the local treat for St. Joseph’s Day. It was quite large, filled with custard and topped with whipped cream, but I’m accustomed to more vanilla taste coming through from the custard and more egg taste from the cream-puff-like pastry itself. This zeppole was good, but just not as intense as I’m used to.
La Rosa has a full bar with a nice wine list. That Saturday evening, there seemed to be a lively neighborhood clientele, stopping by for a drink and some calamari. And by the time we’d finished dinner, the dining room was completely filled, with couples, foursomes, and a few taking-an-elderly-parent-out groupings. Located on a busy, commercial strip of Newport Avenue, La Rosa is a convenient stop for a post-shopping expedition or a pre-movie dinner. Its warm hospitality and home-cooked food are great foils to the fast food spots just up the street.