One of the delights of living in a tourist destination is that the tourists go away. At least most of them. Every summer.
I'm so used to the crowds at Tramonti overflowing on to the sidewalk of Atlantic Avenue, that seeing it near empty on a recent night was at first shocking and then refreshing. Tramonti's off-night was our boon. No need to fight the crowd or noise of the season.
Luigi Silverstri and family — owners of the 10-year-old Tramonti as well as Angelo's of Mulberry in Manhattan — practice a kind of old-fashioned, highly polished style of restaurateuring. Managers wear suits. The division between waiter and busboy is clearly delineated. There's a comfort in that kind of hierarchy for restaurant patrons who remember when going out to eat was a more formal pursuit. To be honest, some of the usual Tramonti efficiency was missing. It's not usually the kind of place where you have to ask that dirty plates be removed.
We started with baked clams ($9.50), Little Necks done with a bit of bread crumbs and parsley and so small you almost can't taste their brininess. Fried calamari with tomato dipping sauce ($14) is cooked perfectly and virtually oil free. The order includes both rings and tentacles, which I prefer. Spiedini di mozzarella Romano ($14.50), baked bread and mozzarella, is almost like a savory bread pudding, this one with a special house sauce I suspect contains just a bit of anchovy and white wine.
It's a big appetizer menu with everything from fried zucchini ($7.50) and arancini ($10.50), to beef carpaccio ($17.50) and tripe with tomatoes and potatoes ($14). There's also pasta fagioli ($7.50) and five salads, including the excellent Tramonti special ($15), baby spinach with caramelized red onions, peppers and gulf shrimp.
I counted 17 pasta dishes on the menu and that doesn't include specials. One special the other night was fusilli ($26.50) in a spicy tomato sauce with sausage. The San Marzano tomato sauce is perfect, neither too acidic nor too Old World stewed tasting. You'll find the sauce on several dishes, including the rigatoni that accompanied pork braciole ($34). I'm so used to seeing this rolled meat dish on restaurant menus made with beef that I couldn't resist a pork preparation. Unfortunately, it was a little dry.
A breaded veal chop ($38), however, was perfection. Lightly pounded and breaded, it's served with a lightly dressed tri-color salad made with radicchio and romaine. Very nice indeed.
The waiter tempted us with a lobster special, but then told us that the only size available was three-and-a-half pounds. It was an unbelievable $95, but unbelievably delicious. It can be ordered with either garlic sauce or Fra Diavolo, and our waiter had no problem dividing the dish between two plates, each with a different sauce. I'd recommend garlic.
At dessert time, mixed berry cake ($7) was disappointingly commercial tasting. The mixture of Chantilly cream, blueberries, blackberries, red currants, raspberries and strawberries was almost certainly purchased frozen and then thawed. Tiramisu ($8) was of the lighter variety, made with sponge cake instead of lady finger and dusted with cocoa powder.
One other thing I noticed while sitting at Tramonti with a thinner than usual crowd was that the place could use some updating. The murals and the fake flowers feel awfully old fashioned. Maybe that's part of Tramonti's charm.
119 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
Hours: Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Saturday
Reservations: For parties of four or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: High chairs, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet with validation on NE Second Ave.