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Our Gourmet: Comfortably rich in Peterborough

6 School St., Peterborough NH

The Dining Companion is on a roll. Our past three times out, she's steered us to the rejuvenated Molly's in New Boston, the amazing Ciao Pasta in Franklin, and now, to an excellent, relaxed and attractive Italian restaurant in downtown Peterborough.

First impressions: 17/20

Marzano's occupies an old theater lobby, a location affirmed by the marquee over the front door. Inside, the atmosphere is warm and comfortable, and the decor is an interesting mix of contemporary and colonial. The dining room has a dozen or so tables, including booths along one wall, and is separated from a small bar area by a three-quarter wall. Lighting is low enough to be cozy but bright enough to be functional, supplied by black colonial-style sconces and reflective overhead fixtures inside interesting S-shaped recesses in the ceiling. We were quickly greeted by a smiling hostess, and our waitress was quickly at our table once we were seated.

Appetizers: 17/20

Our Gourmet: The appetizer menu is not extensive, but it covers a lot of ground, from antipasto to mussels to asparagus and prosciutto bruschetta. There were also several specials, from which I chose the escargot ($7.50). I got a generous plate of sauteed escargot and sliced button mushrooms, served with a rich, bright green basil-garlic-butter sauce. It was less buttery than many escargot dishes I've had, but the herbed sauce made for a delicious variation. 8/10

TDC: I stayed with the menu and ordered the Calamari Fritti ($7) - lightly breaded calamari fried with spicy sliced cherry peppers, which to my surprise were also breaded and fried. Cooked to a light gold color and extremely tender, they were served with a small cup of marinara and a small cup of tartar sauce. I would have preferred an aioli, but they were fantastic. 9/10

Entrees: 19/20

OG: From an entree list studded with shrimp, fish, beef and veal, I chose Rosemary Chicken Cooked under a Brick ($16). It's a popular way of grilling chicken in Tuscan cuisine (pollo al mattone), and having tasted it here for the first time, I can see why. I got a half chicken, boned, flattened and grilled. It was perfectly seasoned, crispy on the skin side, tender and juicy throughout. Served on a bed of tagliatelle in a buttery sauce with a hint of lemon, it was a wonderful, rich dish. I found myself thinking perhaps it was a bit too rich, especially after my escargot appetizer, which was the only reason I didn't give it a perfect score. 9/10

TDC: I decided to go with the Lobster and Crab Ravioli ($19) - seven large ravioli filled with lobster, crabmeat and ricotta cheese, tossed with a half dozen shimp and a lobster-basil cream sauce. The sauce was quite rich, but was served sparingly, so there was just enough to add a bit of flavor, but not enough to overpower the delicate, and rich in its own right ravioli. The perfectly cooked shrimp rounded out the dish nicely. Unlike OG, I loved the richness and believe it well deserves a perfect score - 10/10

Desserts: 14/20

OG: Tough to top such a great combination of dishes, but I had to try. I chose the Amalfi Coast Lemon Cake ($6). It was a large wedge of poundcake consistency, not too sweet, with a mellow lemon flavor. A bit heavy to finish, but I managed. 7/10

TDC: I narrowed the choices down to Mamma's Ricotta Cake with strawberry sauce or the Chocolate Walnut Torta and finally chose the torta ($6). The shell had a thin layer of an almost pecan pie-type filling topped with walnuts and a very rich, almost a fondant or fudge-like chocolate. Though delicious, it was way too sweet, rich and heavy to end what had been such a perfect meal. I would have preferred it a couple hours after dinner with a nice cup of coffee. 7/10

Final thoughts: 17/20

The menu isn't long, but it's got a nice range of flavors and ingredients. Pasta is a fixture, and is served with most entrees. A vegetarian might find his choices too limited, but most omnivores will find something to suit their taste.

The service was excellent. Our waitress, Connie, was friendly, knowlegeable and helpful. The room was a little loud, but there was a large group seated in the middle and we were near the service area, so we might have had it louder than other diners.

We haven't spent a lot of time in Peterborough, but our visit to Marzano's and what we saw of the downtown area and its quaint, quirky shops were enough to convince us to come back to spend a day.

Total: 84/100


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