Taste Test: Pulcinella's
100 Dorset St. South Burlington, 863-1000. Opens for lunch at 11:30. $$$$
There's no dim sum or Evil Jungle Prince on the menu at Pulcinella's. Chef Sam Palmisano, who purchased Burlington's Five Spice Café just months before its conflagration, has taken a different tack with a white-tablecloth Italian establishment in South Burlington, on Dorset Street between Small Dog Electronics and Eastern Mountain Sports.
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, Pulcinella's has a menu so jam-packed with authentic Italian specialties that it's almost overwhelming. How do you choose between pasta dishes such as gnocchi di patate con funghi — fresh gnocchi with mushrooms in a cream sauce — and fish soup filled lobster, scallops, shrimp, mussels and clams? Then there's a panino made with Palmisano's dad's secret meatball recipe. It's not easy.
Slices of bread, which arrive as patrons mull over the possibilities, are a bit bland: As with many loaves served in local restaurants, the dough could have used a bit more salt. A bowl of baby clams is doused in a white wine sauce with garlic and parsley — a sauce that's a little too briny. Subtract salt from the clams, add it to the bread, and presto, they'd both be perfect!
But the meatballs in the zuppa maritata, traditional Italian wedding soup, are just right. They arrive in chicken broth with garlic, slippery orzo noodles and strands of escarole, an underutilized green in the endive family. Another winner: mushroom pizza on the restaurant's signature hand-tossed, whole-wheat crust. The hearty dough is a good match for the chunky mushrooms and cheese.
The braciole, another one of "Dad's" recipes, is a hearty roulade of beef braised in tomato sauce. The flavorful filling contains cheese, salami and slices of egg. The meat was fork tender, but the same slow cooking that made it so toothsome rendered the egg whites rather tough. The sizeable spinach salad, filled with bits of pancetta, roasted peppers and grape tomatoes, was topped with a lightly poached egg. This one was perfect.
Like Bove's, Burlington's longstanding, family-owned Italian joint, Pulcinella's is selling its sauce by the bottle. Right now, you can take home a mason jar filled with pesto, mushroom cream sauce or pomodorini. According to the menu, the last item on that list is flavored with garlic, basil, oregano and EVOO — that's extra virgin olive oil in Rachael Ray-speak. In the near future, you'll be able to get a slew of other sauces, too, along with one-pound packages of meatballs and Italian sausages. Looks like Palmisano plans to give other ristoranti in the Burlington area a run for their money.