A dinner at Tomasso Trattoria conjures up the best of Italy

The Item : January 25, 2008

SOUTHBORO — Central Massachusetts is blessed with many good Italian-American restaurants. You could eat at a different one every night.

But none have taken my husband and I back to our trip to Italy more than Tomasso Trattoria. From the moment we sat down, we were drawing comparisons to restaurants in Siena and Florence. It was a night to relive some memories … and make some new ones. This was not a meal for the budget conscious, but every bite was full of flavor and the feeling that the kitchen cared about what was being served.

We specifically arrived on a Sunday to take advantage of the three-course, price fixed menu, but the regular menu proved too tempting, so this option ($30 on Sundays through Wednesdays, with a menu that changes weekly) will have to wait.

Like most restaurants in Italy, the menu includes antipasti (appetizers), first plates (pastas meant to be a prelude to the entrée) and second plates (what we call entrees). There are also pizzas, side dishes and salads to complement the meal.

Antipasti included Affettati Misti (selection of cured meats, $15), Mozzarella in Carozza (homemade mozzarella in sandwiches with white anchovies and salsa verde, $7) and Barbabiertole (marinated roasted red beets $5).

My husband and I opted to split the Polpette (meatballs made with beef, pork and whole milk ricotta, $6). The five meatballs were tender and flavorful and the tomato sauce was fresh; I ended up dipping my bread in this sauce rather than the offered olive oil.

The next course is pasta (not served with the meatballs, the way it is in the United States). We had a hard time deciding between the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (flat-cut pasta with meat sauce, $10), Pappardelle (wide-cut pasta with braised Heritage pork ragu, $11), Spaghettini con Cozze (thin-cut spaghetti with mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, $11) and Garganelli (braised rabbit, radicchio, trevisano and almonds tossed with hand-rolled pasta, $12).

We ordered the Pappardelle, but quickly changed to the Raviolo con Uovo (single, large ravioli, filled with mascarpone, black truffles and egg yolk). The pasta was al dente and the egg yolk quickly leaked out, mixing with the cheese sauce to form a mix that was like the best Hollandaise sauce. Again, I dipped my bread in this before forcing myself to put the carbs down.

There are several pizzas available, including Margherita ($10), Guanciale (with bacon, red pepper, arugula and garlic oil, $11) and Mediterraneo (with roasted grape tomatoes, pitted black olives and goat cheese, $12), but we quickly began the process of narrowing down our entrée choices.

There are only six “second plates” on the menu, but we were anxious to try several. The Bistecca ($27) was tempting, as was the grilled swordfish with seared cauliflower, pine nuts and golden raisins ($25) and roasted red snapper with fennel, onions, black olives and parsley ($24).

Finally, we decided to split the Maiale (slow-roasted Heritage breed pork rib marinated with fennel pollen and lemon zest, topped with a Seckel pear mostarda ($24) and the Brasato di Cervo (venison stew with cipollini onions and butternut squash, $23).

The stew was good, with tender, rich meat pieces, sweet onion and tender squash. The meat could easily have been high quality beef or bison, which was a plus for me, if not my husband, who prefers his meat a bit gamier.

The pork was amazing. The fennel pollen gave the dish a flowery burst, and the pear was a perfect complement.

We did order roasted potatoes and sage ($4) as a side dish to share, though we didn’t really need it.

Portions at Tomasso were typical of what we saw in Italy: Small portions that built on each other and worked together. We had no leftovers, but did not feel too full. It was quality food at a price that will likely mean this will be a special-occasion restaurant.

Our waitress, as well as other servers who saw our interest in food and shared some of our passion, urged us to save room for dessert. Desserts, or dolci, included rum cake ($8), pistachio pastry cream tart ($7), homemade gelato (either chocolate cherry or toffee, made that day) or sorbetto (pear or white peach). The gelato or sorbetto choices change daily, our waitress told us.

We ordered two: The waitress’ favorite, the Gianduja semifreddo (frozen chocolate hazelnut mousse with hazelnut tuille, $8) and the tiramisu ($8).

The semifreddo was easier to eat once we let it soften a bit. The chocolate wasn’t as dark as my husband would have liked, but it was a cool, light dessert.

The tiramisu was reminiscent of what we saw in Italy. Homemade ladyfingers were bathed generously in Kahlua and Myers Dark Rum just before serving (we saw the chef doing this in the open kitchen), and it was topped with mascarpone cheese. It was rich and not-too-sweet. I think they need to ask for ID before ordering. My husband, the chocolate fiend, actually preferred this dessert to the chocolate one.

This was not a quick dinner. As is common in Italy, it is the type of meal you linger over. Add in a bottle of Rochefort Trappist No. 8 Belgian Ale ($12) and a pomegranate martini ($12), and it was a meal for the scrapbook.

The cost for the two of us was $114.45, before tip.

– By Jan Gottesman MANAGING EDITOR