Warwick Beacon

Elizabeth of Portofino’s: Still tops the second time around

Don Fowler

We remember Portofino on Post Road in Warwick when it was Conte’s. And we remember dining there when Brenda Alves greeted everyone at the door as if they were family. And we remember when she sold the popular restaurant and people stopped going there.

Then five years ago along came Elizabeth, who with her two young children, Philip and Nicole, renovated not only the building but the atmosphere, as the restaurant returned to top form once again.

In all our years of reviewing restaurants, we have never done a second review – so many restaurants, so little time. But we kept hearing great things about Elizabeth and Portofino. We had to go back…and are we glad we did.

Elizabeth, her children, her waiters and her chef still offer the friendly greetings, relaxed atmosphere and fabulous food that we remembered. We met Elizabeth’s son, Philip, a senior at Toll Gate High School, where he is a star athlete on the golf team, with plans to pursue the sport in college.

“When I was young, I used to hang around the restaurant, so I decided to put on the black uniform and go to work,” he said.

When you look at the building, located in a strip mall at 897 Post Rd. in Warwick, you don’t see the beauty of the dining room and bar area. Elizabeth has added a patio in back, overlooking Cranberry Pond, creating the feeling that you are 100 miles away from the city.

The bartender, who happened to be Joe, our waiter that evening, passed the martini/Black Russian test with flying colors.

We remembered the warm bread with individual dishes of olive oil, ground pepper and grated cheese, all prepared at the table with a fresh, warm garlic clove providing the final touch.

The menu is very Rhode Island: a mixture of Italian and fresh seafood. Chef Joe Zacovic said he tried to introduce sushi to the menu, but the regulars rejected it. Zacovic is a Johnson & Wales grad who was the executive chef at Pearl for three years and worked 96-hour weeks in the Hamptons in the summer (“I loved the experience and met all kinds of celebrities”). His wife is the manager of Chardanny’s.

There are always special wines, appetizers, entrees and deserts, which Joe read to us with enthusiasm. He pushed a special eggplant dish, with the vegetable fried, crusted, mixed with cheese and served with a marinara sauce, but I’m not crazy about eggplant. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I ordered it. I now like eggplant…at least the way Joe the chef prepared it.

Joyce also chose a special appetizer, scallops in a limoncello sauce. She loved the taste and even gave me one of the three large sea scallops. Appetizers run from $8.95 to $12.95 for Beef Carpaccio.

Joyce raved over the sweetness of the salad dressing, asking what was in it. Joe the waiter said Joe the chef would kill him if he revealed his secret. I enjoyed one of the best Caesar salads I ever had.

The extensive menu features interesting combinations of veal, chicken, beef and seafood. The veal dishes are very popular. I still remembered my veal Marsala ($19.95) from five years ago and was tempted to repeat the order, but Joe (the waiter) convinced me to order the Linguine Pescatore ($22.95). Am I glad he did.

Three large shrimp, clams and sea scallops, plus tender squid, prepared over linguine with a savory sauce made for an absolutely scrumptious dinner. Joyce was lured by the special: lobster ravioli with shrimp and extra chunks of fresh lobster in a delicious cream sauce. We shared, and I enjoyed the ravioli, which I swore I never like. We even had enough left over for lunch the next day. A regular lobster ravioli is also on the menu.

Dessert was out of the question, although Joe tempted us with the dessert platter (“Elizabeth insists that I show you”). Some items are bought from a local bakery, but the specials are prepared in-house. We topped off our evening with a glass of homemade limoncello.

Elizabeth of Portofino’s is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., an hour later on Friday and Saturday, and 4:30 to 9 on Sunday. For reservations call 461-8920.

It will not take us five years to go back to Elizabeth of Portofino’s.