THE POST-STANDARD / WEEKEND - DINING OUT
By Yolanda Wright
When scouting for a location to film ''Come Away With Me," Italian scriptwriter/director Carlo Ventura returned to his East Utica roots, where his story is set.
Before shooting began a few years ago, Ventura hired Cafe Ca'Nole to cater dinners for the company.
The popular Italian pastry shop and cafe, owned by chefs Dean and Jason Nole, graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, would offer homemade dishes.
With a vintage Hollywood twist, Ventura's shooting began after an audition for Jason Nole, who landed a lead role in the film.
His brother, Dean, managed the catering.
The firm's premiere played to two enthusiastic full houses in Utica in late June and is scheduled for winter openings in Manhattan and Rome, Italy.
When four of us visited Cafe Ca'Nole on a recent Friday evening, there were no movie lights, but there were plenty of stars on our plates during an exceptionally good dinner with friendly service and moderate prices.
Pronounced like "cannoli," a popular cheese-filled Italian pastry, the bakery is the house of the Nole brothers, whose dining-room walls are filled with vintage photographs, and tables are topped with white linens and votive candles.
The restaurant: Cafe Ca'Nole, 900 Culver Ave., Utica. 733-6592.
Credit cards? Yes. Access to disabled? Yes. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Dinner served only on Friday and Saturday. Cost: Dinner for four with two appetizers, entrees, desserts, coffee, wine, tax and tip, was $163.59.
Wine bottles hang from wrought-iron forms above a small bar, and dessert-lovers' dreams come true with glass display cases with rows of cakes, tarts, cookies and such filled creations as pastry lobster claws.
A separate gelato display is an Italian souvenir waiting to be claimed.
The cafe's simple a-la-carte menu offers six starters ($6 to $10) and 10 entrees ($15 to $27). We began with a bottle of Folo-nari pinot grigio ($15), a basket of bread that tasted homemade and a dish of olive oil for dipping.
Two starters were remarkable, one for presentation and one for size, and both were big on flavor.
A Greek-style salad ($7) earned a gold medal for creativity, as its sliced ingredients formed a perfect tower rising with thin cucumbers, vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet onions, feta cheese, kalamata olives and crunchy bread crumbs. This eye-opener was terrific.
Easy to share and to enjoy, assorted antipasti ($10) filled a giant plate with generous portions of carefully composed, paper-thin prosciutto, spicy sop-pressata sausage, bruschetta with diced tomatoes and onions, cubes of roasted beets, marinated black and green olives, sliced and cubed cheeses and marinated arugula.
On a table obviously designed for cafe lunches but too small to accommodate four large entree plates, wine cooler, glasses, bread basket and more, we eventually coped and were ready for hot entrees.
Although each had a creative Italian touch, they were definitely not spaghetti-and-meatball standbys.
A chicken breast roasted with herbs and garlic ($18) arrived with a delicious summer-vegetable risotto.
More creamy risotto accompanied an evening special of pan-seared salmon ($22) with corn and shrimp relish.
The thick fish fillet was moist and fresh-tasting.
Prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin ($18), cut into thick slices, was crisp on the outside with a slightly pink interior and lots of flavor.
Surrounded by savory Tuscan cannellini beans and topped with a small green herb salad with a balsamic reduction, the combination was great.
Shrimp and freshly shucked lobster ($19) provided a splendid filling for homemade ravioli in a asonal lemon and white-wine broth with summer squash and snow peas.
Other entree choices included calamari, shrimp and clams with spaghettini, plum-tomato sauce and fresh basil ($19), veal Milanese ($ 18) with salad, pappar-delle pasta with spring peas, prosciutto, toasted garlic and oil with Reggiano cheese ($15) and a mixed grill with sliced sirloin, braised beef short ribs and grilled pork medallions ($27).
For dessert, we visited the pastry cases and chose individual favorites, which were delivered on doily-covered plates with coffee ($1.25 each). We indulged in a creamy old-fashioned Napoleon, a traditional chocolate eclair, a chocolate bis-cotti and a crescent-shaped Italian almond-paste cookie — all first-rate and tasting homemade.
With the cookie, I couldn't resist a small stemmed glass of creamy pistachio gelato, putting me back on dozens of streets in Italy, where refreshing scoops of an old favorite come in cardboard cups with tiny pink plastic spades. The total tab for desserts was $6.35.
Service at Ca'Nole was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable in a relaxed neighborhood setting that made me wish it were in mine.
Yolanda Wright's weekly "Dining Out" review is based on an unannounced, anonymous visit. An A-to-Z listing of many of the reviews is available at www.syracuse.com/dining/ .