The Travelin Maine(rs), George and Linda Smith of Mount Vernon, have spent their lifetimes enjoying all that Maine has to offer. Now they’ll tell you all about it — their favorite inns, restaurants, trips, activities, experiences, and travel books and websites — in their own personal style. They’ll be offering anecdotes, tips and all the details you need. So join them in exploring, experiencing and enjoying the great state of Maine.

 

The sense that we were in Italy overtook us shortly after we were seated at Amici’s Cucina, on Waterville’s Main Street. Well, perhaps with the exception that everyone was speaking English.

Mary and Angelo Carpinito have worked in the restaurant business for decades, but this is the first place they opened and operated on their own and they’ve hit a home run their first time up at the plate.

If you are looking for an authentic Italian dining experience, this is the place. We talked with two couples that night that have been to Italy several times and agreed with us on this.

Linda
If you’ve followed this column at all, you probably already know that we love a good Italian restaurant. It’s not that we just like to eat spaghetti and the like.

Italian restaurants really offer a wide variety of food, depending on what you’re in the mood for. There’s what I think of as the  “traditional” dishes like marinara sauce, pasta, meatballs, sausage and lasagna.

Then there’s the veal and chicken dishes where kitchens start getting really creative.
Italians are also famed for their preparations of fish and seafood. And let’s not leave out eggplant, my new favorite vegetable.

So when we heard from our accountant, Jim Nicholson, that Waterville got a great new Italian restaurant in 2011 called Amici’s Cucina, we were all ears. Arriving on a Saturday evening, it appeared that perhaps we were the only ones who hadn’t discovered this place! It filled up, and remained full, for the two and a half hours we were there.

The ambiance of this restaurant is special. The first thing I noticed as we walked through the front room was the tin punched ceiling. It’s amazing. The brick walls, copper tabletops, lighting and wooden floor in the larger dining room are just beautiful.

The owners had huge paintings of Italian artwork printed on canvas by Skowhegan artist Peter Schuette. These make a stunning display, so you might want to take a stroll around to enjoy them.

Carefully arranged tables and dividers let conversation flow in a pleasant buzz. It was never loud despite the number of diners, and we could still hear the soft Italian music playing in the background.
Starting off your meal will be some of the best warm, crusty bread you could ask for along with an olive oil dipping sauce. The secret to Amici’s version — making it rise above all the others I’ve ever tasted — is the fresh herbs they put in their oil. Yum!

If you are going for an appetizer, try the sacchettis (beggar’s purses). Pasta is folded up over a porcini mushroom filling and served in a white wine sauce (delectable!) with portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh spinach and bits of cheese on top. Even if, like our server Dee Dee, you don’t like mushrooms, this dish will convert you.

Under the Italian Entrée section of the menu, you will find seven creative dishes that can be prepared with cutlets of either veal or chicken. I loved the Mona Lisa — grilled veal with mushrooms, artichokes, zucchini and broccoli. The lemon butter sauce made this dish much lighter than a cream sauce dish. This comes with a choice of pasta, choice of sauce, and choice of salad or cup of soup.

The chicken ($14.75) or the veal ($18.95) makes this a hearty meal at a reasonable price. With ample portions and entrées in the $12 to $19 range, this dining experience is a bargain.

If you linger over your meal, you may find you have enough room to sample one of the many delicious looking desserts — displayed on a tray brought to your table. We split the tiramisu and it was the perfect end to a wonderful dining experience.

George
Linda wrote twice as many words as she usually does for this column, a good indication of how much she liked Amici’s. I liked it too, but don t have the space to tell you all the reasons why. Here s the abbreviated version.

• Mary’s warm welcome. Our friendly server, Dee Dee, whose knowledge of each dish was a real plus for us. Their understanding of and desire to deliver the traditional leisurely Italian meal.

• The Shrimp Fra Diavolo, recommended by my friend Ed Pineau, with a nicely spiced marinara sauce. Wish I’d ordered a full entrée and not just a sample.

• The Veal Saltimbocca, always one of my favorites, and very well-presented here  — maybe because it’s also Angelo’s favorite, too!

• The eggplant parmesan — a dish we like to sample in every Italian restaurant. At $11.95, this dish is a real bargain. My new favorite appetizer  — the sacchetti’s. Wow!

• Angelo, Italian and Argentinian, who has been cooking since the age of 14. The fact that Angelo and Mary loved our state so much they moved here and opened this restaurant.

• The value — low prices, high quality — a recipe for success well-demonstrated by the full house the night we visited.

Conclusion
We were surprised to find Mount Vernon neighbors Don and Dee Keneagy and Quimby and Mitzi Robinson at a nearby table. When they told us,  “We come here  all the time,” I knew we were in the right place.

Now, our goal for 2012 is to get to Amici’s several times ourselves! If you like Italy and Italian food, this restaurant should be on your regular dining schedule. Eat like an Italian!

Visit George’s website: www.george
smithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.

 


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