North Adams: Red Sauce Ristorante
"We're trying to get our name out," said chef and owner Eddie Ceccherini.
But he said it is not easy, even for a veteran of the restaurant business. Ceccherini has been involved with restaurants for three decades, working at the Ritz-Carlton for 12 years. He traveled a lot and worked in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and even various places in Europe, before starting work for Jae Chung (of Jae's Inn) in 1996.
After 10 years as Jae's general manager, traveling back and forth between Boston and the Berkshires, Ceccherini decided to open Red Sauce.
"Everybody at that stage tends to do that," Ceccherini said of his years in the restaurant business. "You want to open your own place and do well. People visiting Jae's always asked for recommendations for Italian food, so we felt North County needed an Italian restaurant."
And so the Ceccherinis moved from just outside of Boston to the Berkshires. "It wasn't quite culture shock," said Ceccherini. "But it is very different here. When the lights go out, everyone goes home."
Everyone except Ceccherini, of course, who is at the restaurant from 11 in the morning to late at night. His wife Valerie handles the front of the house, and his son Jesse (a student at MCLA) serves as a waiter. And Ceccherini himself works in the kitchen all day.
"Being a businessman, you don't cook what you like, you cook what'll sell," he explained. Last season he made one of his favorite pastas, with tomatoes, olive oil and fresh basil. People didn't seem to want it.
And people don't even necessarily know what they want; Ceccherini put lasagna on the menu in response to people's frequent suggestions, but few people ended up actually ordering it.
"You can be as creative as your neighborhood allows," he said. "We have specials every day, which is like an outlet. I go to the farmer's market a couple times a week, try to use the local farmers, see what's around in season, see a fish guy, a meat guy. ... We started doing a few new things, and people seem to respond to it."
We started with the arancini ($6.95), which were five golden brown fried balls of risotto, mozzarella cheese, salami and spinach, all soaking in the eponymous red sauce. There were a few cold spots, perhaps from uneven cooking, but the dish had a nice mild heat with an interesting flavor.
The chicken marsala ($15.95) is an Italian classic, with chicken breast over linguini with mushrooms, shallots, garlic and marsala wine. This was a perfectly serviceable version of a standard, with a nice sweetness from the wine.
The real star of the night, however, was the seafood saffron risotto ($22.95) one of the chalkboard specials a large dish of creamy risotto with saffron and parmesan, topped with a pair of mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops, as well as plenty of calamari mixed in with the risotto.
The scallops were very tender, and the whole dish was incredibly rich, with the light saffron flavor as an overtone.
We had to take a bit home as leftovers in order to save room for dessert. The dense ricotta cheesecake ($5.95) was, true to its name, dense. A very generous slice came with a dollop of whipped cream that was so much better than normal whipped cream, I had to ask Ceccherini his secret.
Apparently it was just whipped heavy cream with vanilla, but it complemented the cheesecake perfectly.
"We make everything on the premises," Ceccherini said, "and all the desserts are made fresh. We get a lot of positive feedback. I like the neighborhood, the people. ... It's rewarding in a way. I think we've got a nice, affordable restaurant with bright colors; I'm proud of our place."
Ceccherini also won the 11th annual North Adams Chowder Cook-off earlier this year, so between that and the seafood saffron risotto, he should be proud of his cooking as well.
If you go ...
What: Red Sauce Ristorante
Where: 139 Ashland St., North Adams.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday, 4-8 p.m.
Handicap accessible: Yes.
Prices: Appetizers, $6-$10; entrees, $10 to $24.
Credit cards: All major.
Noise level: Moderate.
Specials: Take-out and catering available.
Information: (413) 662-2200.