Restaurant review: Dautaj at the Warwick Inn
May 04, 2007
Why do we eat our largest meal of the day, dinner, at night? Does it make sense to fill ourselves with food and sometimes with wine then sit around, watch TV maybe and go to bed? Is that healthy? Probably not, but for most of us it's a part of our culture and tradition.
Not so for the Italians, especially on Sunday. On that day it's common to gather with friends and family earlier in the day, lunchtime or a little later, and feast to your heart's content. A midafternoon meal, where you have the rest of the day to be active and burn off some calories, would seem to make more sense.
So here we are on a Sunday at lunchtime at Dautaj (Dautaj is the name of the owner), an Italian-American restaurant nicely fitted into the most handsome Warwick Inn. The exterior of this building is gorgeous. A circular driveway in the front leads to a parking area. There are trees everywhere, and the front porch, which is huge, leads to a solid-wood front door.
Inside is a barroom to the left with a few tables. Also, a smaller room holds a white baby grand piano and a wine display. To the right is the main dining room, relatively small but also quite attractive. Tables are set with rich linens, and each one sports its own pepper mill, very nice. Also noteworthy are a lovely wooden mantle and fireplace, intricately carved. Stained-glass windows in yellow and green adorn a bay window, and lots of vases, bowls, pitchers and old collectibles are positioned about the room. There is an Old World elegance to the room that is impossible to imitate; we feel special just sitting here.
The menu is very large and offers pretty much every Italian-American item you can think of. There is also a list of the day's specials and another early-bird menu that offers a two-course meal at a set price.
We begin with an old favorite, Spiedini Alla Romana ($7.95). Spiedini can also be a dish that is skewered (one version uses skewers to secure the cheese to the bread) and grilled, but this Old World recipe is something else entirely. Essentially, mozzarella is layered between two slices of good bread, slathered with an egg batter and sauteed to a crisp. Cut into quarters, it's served with a sauce made with garlic, capers, white wine and anchovies. The version here is made with butter; it's not traditional, but it works for me. The rich sandwich is wonderful with the sauce, which has a hint of anchovy.
Clams Posillipo ($9.95) is next, another favorite. A large platter holds a mound of littleneck clams. They're immersed in a tomato sauce that is Old World wonderful, hearty and a bit sweet with deep layers of flavor. The clams might be a tad overcooked, but the sauce is so good it hardly matters. We sop it up with bread and finish the plate.
House salads are a nice mix of large and baby lettuces with shredded purple cabbage and cherry tomatoes.
My guest samples one of the items from the specials menu, Chicken Sophia Loren ($17.95). This recipe features, naturally, breast of chicken topped with spinach ricotta and topped with mozzarella cheese. A white wine sauce made with black olives graces the chicken, light and lovely. Alongside is a delicious potato cake — mashed and breaded, both crisp and soft — that is searing hot. Julienne green and yellow squash and carrots finish the plate.
Eggplant Rollatini ($13.95) is next; we're doing a tour of old favorites. Three tubes of rolled eggplant arrive stuffed with creamy ricotta and topped with yet more mozzarella. Finished with the fine tomato sauce and served with spaghetti, it is a simple yet lusty vegetarian meal.
Desserts come from an outside purveyor, except for our choice, Tiramisu ($7). Each restaurant seems to have its own version of this old favorite, usually with chocolate or espresso as dominant flavors. This version is very light and has lots of cinnamon, so much that it almost overwhelms the rest of the flavors.
With lunch we have glasses of Sauvignon Blanc from Forestville ($7), which is surprisingly good. The wine list here is an interesting collection of American, Italian and international wines at a variety of prices.
Service is old school also, a captain, waiter and busboy team to provide very good hospitality.
Dinner comes to $73.80 with two glasses of wine and an espresso, a good value.
Dautaj at the Warwick Inn is a bit of an enigma, a mostly Italian restaurant settled into a classic Americana building. But it works. The room here is quite attractive, it has Old World elegance not found in modern architecture. The cuisine here is good if predictable Italian-American. Service is professional and polished, and prices are fair. This is a great place for a Sunday lunch, or most anytime. Dautaj at the Warwick Inn brings new life to a wonderful old building in Warwick.
Restaurant critic Bill Guilfoyle has more than 25 years experience in the restaurant industry as a sommelier, manager and chef/owner. He is an associate professor at a local college.
Dautaj at the Warwick Inn
Where: 36 Oakland Ave., Warwick
Entree price range: $13.95-$28
Hours/days: lunch — noon-3 p.m. daily, dinner — 4-11 p.m. daily
Children's menu: no
Low-fat/vegetarian menu: yes
Other amenities: takeout, catering, early-bird menu and private parties
Signature dishes: Spiedini alla Romana, Osso Buco, Pollo Aldanoti
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover
The Dish rating