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Tasty and (Now) Affordable

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Whole grilled fish is served table-side at Ristorante Verona.The middle of August may not be the best time to hunker down in front of a heaping plate of steaming pasta. That may be why we found ourselves nearly alone on our visit to Ristorante Verona.

Tucked away in Malvern’s upscale, slightly obscure Nobb Hill Shops, this under-the-radar BYO has been dishing up traditional Italian fare for several years now. A year ago, its owner departed, and former employee Danny Fusaro took over as owner and manager.

Verona’s interior suggests a quaint trattoria in the Tuscan hills, complete with hand-washed walls in warm terra cotta, and thick, rustic tables and chairs. Fusaro is proud of his establishment, and his love of Italy and its cuisine comes through in the sauces—vodka, brandy, lobster cream, a rich Bolognese, and truffle oil and Gorgonzola. It’s also worth noting that original chef Fabrizio Spina—born and raised in Pescara, Italy—is also back on the scene after a two-year-or-so reprieve.

Diners chat it up with the knowledgeable waitstaff.Ristorante Verona’s menu is a mix of Abruzzi- and Veronese-inspired dishes—part Mediterranean, part Old World homestyle fare. Both Fusaro and Spina spent many years working at Positano in Ardmore and Springfield. Special touches include whole, grilled fish served table-side. Homemade bread —similar in texture and taste to Easter bread—is served with creamy butter instead of the trendier olive oil. All pastas except for the linguine and penne are homemade, and the meat that’s used is grassfed.

Wine enthusiasts will appreciate the handsome glasses. And for those who like to take the family out for celebrations, the space is great for private parties on Sundays. Of course, if you’d rather stay in, they also offer catering.

Since taking over, Fusaro hasn’t messed with things too much—but one thing is certain: The prices are more reasonable. Prior to the change of hands, this rustic Italian outpost fielded numerous complaints—particularly online—that it was too expensive. There are still plenty of pricey dishes, but the range is much more in line with that of other local BYOs. From what we experienced, the higher price tags were well positioned: a $32 Zuppa di Pesce al Pescarese; $29 for a 12-ounce New York strip with portobello mushrooms and a white wine demi-glace; and the same for an 8-ounce filet in a red wine reduction.

Pastas range from $15 to $23, but the portions are more than generous, allowing for leftovers or, better yet, sharing—so you can sample more of the kitchen’s authentic offerings.

Choosing was difficult, but after Fusaro talked up the 16-ounce Australian grassfed veal chop, there was no more wavering. He even exchanged the standard side of sautéed mushrooms and onions with Papparadelle con Portobello, homemade pasta ribbons and chunks of sautéed mushrooms tossed with truffle oil and Gorgonzola cheese. It was an ample entrée, to be sure. The veal was tender and juicy.
 

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Chef Fabrizio Spina at work in the kitchen.Ristorante Verona has been known for gastronomic specialities like polenta, which wasn’t anywhere on the new menu. One can hardly lament its exclusion, though, as the other choices are numerous—including plenty of light salads. One standout boasts thin slices of grilled eggplant fanned out with buffalo mozzarella and large chunks of tomato sprinkled with Italian herbs.

Pasta dishes mostly come in combinations conceived by the chef, the prevailing wisdom being that a mix-and-match premise isn’t going to ruffle too many feathers. Everything is made to order—there’s a warning on the menu—so be prepared to wait a bit longer than usual. And be careful not to overload on the delicious bread and appetizers while you’re waiting.

Along with the regular menu, Verona typically offers a half-dozen specials. Whole fish selections typically feature bronzini, Dover sole and tilapia. Also excellent are the crab cakes, served with a silky-sweet lobster brandy cream sauce.

Ristorante Verona’s pork loin marsala.We went with the Lobster Fra Diavolo (“from the devil”), cut by hand. A hefty tail anchored the dish. Juicy and delicate, it was served attached to the shell, accompanied by large, sweet scallops and shrimp. The sauce was, in word, fiery—but the kitchen is happy to turn down the heat at your request. We swapped out the linguine in favor of a luscious housemade papparadelle.

Our meal ended impressively with a sampling of Limoncello parfait—actually a gelato laced with fresh whipped cream. It was downright heavenly, its tartness perfectly balanced by a steaming cuppa with a thick crema on top and a slice of lemon rind on the side. We also sampled Fusaro’s homemade “Orangecello” on the house—a genuine show of Italian hospitality and a nice way to round out our dining experience.

THE SKINNY: Ristorante Verona is a tiny gem of a restaurant hiding in plain view. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d likely drive right by it. The ambiance is friendly and inviting, with a refined rusticity that perfectly mirrors the tasty, uncomplicated food. The affable Fusaro stands by everything that comes out of his kitchen—and that has to leave anyone feeling good about spending their money here.

RISTORANTE VERONA

Location: Nobb Hill Shops, 288 Lancaster Ave., Malvern; (610) 644-7464, ristoranteverona.com
Cuisine: Traditional, rustic Italian.
Cost: Average entrée over $20.
Attire: Upscale casual.
Atmosphere: Relaxed feel dressed up in white tablecloths.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday. 5-10 p.m. Saturday.
Extras: Live entertainment, outdoor seating, semiprivate dining.
 

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