It had been so long since Our Gourmet reviewers had been to a certain four-star Italian stalwart in Salem we just had to check in and make sure the much-respected Colosseum Restaurant was alive and kicking on North Broadway.
We are happy to report that it still is, indeed, the robust center of southern Italian ambience and epicurean delight that we remember from years past.
Upon entering, even new patrons know they are in for something good. The aroma, the decor, the bustle and the crowd all speak to a dynamic dinner spot that has established itself firmly in its niche for comfort, quality and reliable, top-shelf food.
The crowd is as melting-pot friendly as extreme southern New Hampshire can be, with families, young couples, established couples and their friends crowding the large, dispersed dining areas and packing the eat-in cocktail lounge. A singer-organist provides soft music in the lounge, where couples casually take to the dance floor. With wine and the music and a extensive menu of Italian favorites and special concoctions, the atmosphere is ripe for a unique dining experience.
To properly set the stage, and to muster the time to browse the dozens of dinner choices, start with a glass of wine and the house appetizer. The house appetizer, Antipasto della Casa ($13.95), is an example of the Colosseum's attention to detail.
Robust, but simple, served on a very cold plate, this medley of equally cold vegetables, meat and cheese is carefully arranged, making it a distinctively appetizing start. It includes sliced eggplant, thin fresh marinated green beans, roasted orange pepper slices, fat artichoke hearts, large and thick slices of mushrooms, thin-sliced hard salami, Parma proscuitto, a nice wedge of hard parmesan cheese, and cherry peppers stuffed with proscuitto and provolone cheese —all drizzled generously with extra-virgin olive oil with garlic seasoning.
Each bite is a quality taste, different from the last. Accompanied by a couple of pieces of bruschetta (on the house) and a glass of velvety smooth house Cabernet, the appetizer is perfect for a slow warm-up and an easy read of the menu.
Our dinners were likewise thoughtfully prepared, and off-the-charts on taste and portion size.
My Veal Saltimbocca on linguini ($20.95) was a well-priced meal bursting with goodness. Two good-sized veal cutlets were expertly rolled around a stuffing of Parma proscuitto and mozzarella, parmigiano and romano cheeses, seasoned with a touch of garlic, then breaded lightly and sauteed with mushrooms in a light sherry wine sauce. Just the mushrooms, pasta and slightly sweet sauce accompanied the veal, but it was a most filling and enjoyable combination that pleased this diner immensely.
The portion was large enough to bring three-quarters of a veal cutlet and a nice helping of pasta home for the next day's lunch.
My dining companion scored with Chicken Langostino from the specials menu ($21.95), where a large, plump chicken breast was stuffed almost too generously with lobster and crab meat, asparagus and ricotta cheese, under a shrimp scampi sauce that was out of this world. I sampled this dish and found competition on the palate, but learned to go a bit slower, and choose bites of seafood or chicken individually and enjoy the diced-tomato and sprinkles-of-cheese topping with the scampi.
Langostino is a filling dinner, dripping with sauce and cheese on a large helping of wide pasta noodles. It provided not one, but two meals — even after my snacking from across the table during dinner.
The Colosseum is rich with ideas and combinations on the menu, from hefty steaks ($29.95 to $36.95) to perhaps the largest selection of Italian sauces and homemade pasta that we have found. It is no wonder there is a large wall of awards and plaques on display as soon as one enters.
But despite its vast presentation, it retains a homey and comfortable air, where locals know the management, and waiters and staff have been there long enough to know exactly how to add a suave and personal touch.
And for all of its plush attributes, prices at Colosseum are reasonable. Two glasses of wine, an appetizer and two full meals comes in well under $100, plus tax and tip, making an over-the-top meal a good value as well.