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Feast of the Seven Fishes on Federal Hill

Monday, December 19, 2011

 

A meal fit for a Sicilian king: La Vigilia.

For Rhode Islanders, La Vigilia, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, often ends up being a marathon session at Nona's, suffering through sandy clams casino. So it came as great tidings when chef Domenic Ierfino of Providence's Trattoria Roma announced his updated version of the feast. I headed to Federal Hill to settle in for a holiday meal.

Course 1: Snail and Baccala Salads

I was delighted to discover that Chef Ierfino has grouped his fishes with consideration for course progression. Therefore, the first course featured these less-loved seafoods in ways anyone could adore. The thinly sliced snails combined with hot pepper rings and were dressed in a spicy vinegar sauce. The challenging baccala (salt cod) was a wonderful addition to a cold salad plate, with restrained saltiness and perfect chewy texture.

Course 2: Fried Calamari and Smelts

Both winners. The calamari had a delightful, flour-dusted breading that kept everything light, fresh and tasty. The smelts were my version of a fun, adult fish-stick. Served as full fish, these were perfectly sourced in terms of size and flavor. A zesty red sauce for dipping wasn't even necessary, as both fish were extremely flavorful in their own right.

Course 3: Spaghetti Pescatore

This was practically a La Vigilia in a bowl! Four shellfish (shrimp, mussels, little necks and scallops) crowned a heaping serving of spaghetti with a San Marzano tomato sauce garnished with fresh herbs. It's impressive when a chef can bring four shellfish together on one plate and have all of them perfectly cooked. Note: Trattoria offers this dish in a lighter option utilizing white wine and reduced stock… this might offer good pacing among the red sauces.

Course 4: Pesce Aqua Pazza

We're on fish number nine here, but the whole meal has been remarkably well-balanced, so you'll be ready for this fresh scrod simmered with tomato sauce. The light, flaky fish met the vinegar punch of capers and kalamata olives with the assurance of a generation's old meal. A baby spinach accompanies. The result is a delight.

La Vigilia is offered for $39.95 per person every night 5pm-10pm through Friday, December 23, at Trattoria Roma, 310 Atwells, Providence. For reservations, call 331-5000. Many dishes in the meal are also available to go, which might be a lovely way to make your Christmas Eve both traditional and delicious.

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