WITH THE VILLAGE CENTER dominated by the gorgeous old buildings that house the college and the theater, Williamstown looks like a hand-colored postcard. Even with a thunderstorm brewing, it makes an oily, overcast sky look attractive. So the first challenge for a fine-dining restaurant is to look good, which the Main Street Café accomplishes with the simplicity of a restored old brick building and the well-tended garden that graces the front.
All right, so we were charmed to the nines by the place. And it was early enough in the evening that a relaxed mood prevailed without giving way to too much informality. Servers visited our table with desirable regularity, although my only deliberate summons went embarrassingly astray. Still smarting from the annoyance, over two decades ago, of having my tuxedoed sleeve grabbed by Westchester County oafs too boorish to understand that a raised eyebrow was all it took, I take pride in my own raised eyebrow technique, although the brow thus set in motion has the appearance of two woolly bears in the throes of mating. Looking for a different beverage for my daughter, I let fly with an eyebrow to our waitress, who was standing across the room. She fled.
Northern Italian is the putative theme, although the food styling draws from classical French and fusion trends. A modest list of appetizers includes two versions of stuffed eggplant and daily specials of ravioli, risotto and pizza.
My starter was a shrimp and scallop ceviche, an unusual combo in that preparation. The seafood is cold-marinated in lemon and lime juice, producing a firm but pliant texture with a sweetness that heat-based cooking eliminates. Served over a salad of carrot and Napa cabbage with a pungent dressing of sesame oil, it was a terrific warm-weather dish, beautifully presented. Had all of the plates looked this good, I would have gone all the way to five stars.
Mussels speak for themselves when properly cooked, and that means taking to pull them off the heat early enough to let them finish in the broth in which they’ll be served. Which was what the chef did here, timing the serving so that the white wine and garlic broth enhanced very juicy mussel flesh.
Risotto, a slow preparation of thirsty arborio rice, is a favorite meal in our house, so our young daughter accepted an appetizer portion as her dinner. Here, too, it’s important not to overcook the rice into mush – it needs to be tiniest bit al dente. A subtle infusion of fresh tomato and basil made for a very satisfying dish.
Salads are available a la carte, although we skipped that course and went straight to entrées – we only get about 90 minutes with Lily in tow. Susan opted for simplicity, sort of: chicken and sausage over rigatoni. But it presented a nicely balanced range of flavors, with the sausage seasonings (fennel predominates) and chewiness countering the sweet softness of the other meat. Mushrooms and onions brought out the earthiness of the flavor, helped by fresh tomato.
One of the holdover entrées from the previous Main Street Café owner is a thick slice of grilled swordfish under a thin slice of smoked salmon, topped with a tangy, horseradish enhanced dijonaise sauce and a spray of capers. There’s thus a salty component, but such a startling array of flavors packed so densely makes it a treat for the palate. Served over wilted spinach with a side of stock-rich roasted red bliss potatoes, it was garnished with beautifully steamed broccoli, so simple that it reinforced the importance of the freshest ingredients.
We finished by tasting a couple of homemade desserts: coffee crème brûlée and a compote of fresh berries in pastry with pastry cream.
Chef Drew Nicastro took over the restaurant a scant few months ago; it’s been in Williamstown for about three years after several years in Bennington. “I grew up here,” he says, “and it’s nice to get back to the area.” After study at the Culinary Institute, including a stint as sous chef in that school’s renowned Escoffier Room, he stayed in that area with positions in Tivoli and Rhinebeck. Now he’s settling in with his wife, Leigh-Anne, who oversees the floor, to be his own boss and share his culinary ideas. “I’m very demanding,” he says, “and always keep in mind to strive toward perfection.” A worthy ambition, and it shows.
Dinner for three, with tax and tip and a couple of glasses of wine, was $140
Main Street Café, 16 Water St., Williamstown, Mass., 413-458-xxxx. Serving lunch daily 11:30-2:30, dinner daily 5-10, bistro menu Thu-Sat 10PM-midnight. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
– Metroland Magazine, 15 June 2000