The Italian job

Liz Feltham soaks up the atmosphere in Rogi Orazio, and recommends you do too—especially if you're using the house bread.

Rogi Orazio is the newest darling on Halifax’s restaurant scene, with much buzz and a few good reviews floating around. Nestled along the Hydrostone’s shopping area, the little restaurant is in good company with Epicurious Morsels and Salvatore’s.

Trumpeting “Italian and World” cuisine, the interior of Rogi Orazio has a distinct Mediterranean feel. A long, backlit bar runs one side of the dining room; a great place to enjoy a glass of wine while waiting for friends or for a table.

The menu is fairly small, with only a half-dozen or so entrees—usually a good sign, as it means the kitchen can focus on doing a smaller number of dishes very well. Most of the offerings are Italian, and there is a large selection of pasta.

We begin in the Italian traditional manner, with antipasti ($7.95): a small plate of marinated vegetables, meat, cheese and olives. This particular version consists of one small piece of cured meat, a couple of pieces each of zucchini and eggplant, one slice of tomato, four small pieces of boccancini cheese and a half dozen olives. Seems skimpy, even for one, but everything tastes fine and the marinated vegetables are particularly good.

By now, we also have the house bread—a beautiful, chewy, crusty loaf that sops up plenty of oil and vinegar and is truly fabulous.

We make short work of the antipasti and move on to calamari diablo ($6.25) and a tomato and roast garlic soup ($6.95). “Diablo” indicates spicy, but these squid are not. They are, however, crusted in cornmeal and as tender as you could ask squid to be. The tomato-based sauce is flavourful, but these delicate calamari rings could go out clad in just the cornmeal and still be a hit. The thick soup is a little short on garlic flavour, but makes up for that in the basil department; it’s very good, and the huge bowl with the bread could make a decent supper on its own.

The Insalata Caprese ($7.95) is a salad served with buffalo mozzarella and “vine-ripened tomatoes,” according to the menu. To me, “vine-ripened tomatoes,” while not promising the same as plum or Roma tomatoes, still brings up a mental image of red, juicy, ripe tomatoes. Not so—the salad arrives with four very small discs of mozzarella perched on four of the biggest, hardest, pinkest tomato slices I’ve ever seen. These are typical Canadian winter tomatoes, and they ruin the salad; it would be better to make this dish temporarily unavailable than to serve this sad version.

Fortunately, the spaghetti and meatballs ($14.95) are in good form; delicious, robustly seasoned meatballs, rich tomato sauce and al dente pasta.

Our desserts are the signature (according to our server) lemon raspberry tiramisu ($7.50) and a pricey baklava ($7.95 for two small triangles). The lemon raspberry is a nice variation on the classic tiramisu; the baklava is also quite good, and not overly sweet.

The service, even on this busy night, is attentive. Understandably, our waits are longer than they would be on slower evenings, but our server never lets us feel forgotten despite the fact that she’s juggling two larger tables.

The one thing that niggles away at the back of my head is the careful presentation of the cold plates. A little more relaxed appearance of the plates would be more in keeping with the ambience of the dining room. But that’s a small detail, and doesn’t detract from our overall positive experience.

Tomatoes aside, Rogi lives up to expectations. Together, the European feel, the extensive wine list, the competent service and the food make Rogi Orazio a lovely addition to the Hydrostone’s culinary line-up.

Rogi Orazio 5537 Young Street454-9991 Sun-Thur: 11:30am-11pmFri-Sat: 11:30am-2am latest (depending on business)

Check out Liz Feltham’s full line-up of reviews: