Globe North Dining Out

Italian eatery serves up taste of old and new

May 3, 2009
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Antique Table
2 Essex St., Lynn
Telephone: 781-477-9778
Hours:Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m., Sunday, 4-9 p.m. (Lunch hours start next month)
All major credit cards accepted
Handicapped accessible

Italian restaurants are usually all or nothing these days.

They're either old school - big portions, good red sauce, and too much cheese and carbs for our own goods; or they're new school - tiny portions, fusion sauces inspired by countries other than Italy, fresher and more inventive ingredients, and a shortage of cheese and carbs.

Antique Table, a new Italian restaurant in Lynn, finds itself in the middle, which is a good thing. The portions are big but not too big, red and alfredo sauces are authentic without being too fattening, and the ingredients are inventive without sacrificing the spirit of down-home Italian flavors.

The interiors of the place are supposed to make you feel as though you're in an authentic Italian hideaway: wooden tables, dark lighting, and almost no view of what's outside the doors. It works. On a recent night, we felt shut off from the real world, which allowed us to focus on the important things in life: red sauce versus white, cannoli versus tiramisu. The place is cozy and intimate, great for dates, but if you go early enough, kids won't feel too out of place. Antique Table's website says it strives to be a "little piece of Italy on Boston's North Shore." We'd say that's about right. It's Italy with a Boston accent.

We started with eggplant rollatine ($8), which was a plate of lightly battered eggplant slices with just a little bit of cheese.

I've had this dish in plenty of Italian restaurants and usually, the vegetable is overwhelmed by dollops of ricotta. This version is light and does what an appetizer should do, keep you hungry for more.

For entrees, we tried the staples: a pasta, a pizza, a meat dish, and a special just to see what the cucina had cooked up that night. The pizza was a flatbread. They told me the margherita ($9) would be small enough for one, but when it came to the table, it looked like it could feed four. Much to my surprise, however, I wound up eating most of it. The pie was big but very light. It had a modest amount of cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a crust that had me wanting piece after piece.

We chose the orecchiette pasta dish ($15), which was mostly about the meat and less about the pasta. The sweet Italian ragu was packed with crumbled sausage. We could have used more of the little ear pasta served with the plate, but if you're a meat eater who picks out the protein around the carbs, this dish should serve you well.

For a meat plate, we went with the chicken Florentine ($14), which was topped with a not-too-creamy alfredo sauce and tufts of spinach. The chicken was fine (it tasted like chicken) but we found ourselves dipping for the veggies swimming in the cheesy sauce. Again, even when topped with alfredo, the plate was light enough, especially compared with what you might find at an old-school spot in the North End.

Our special was the shrimp risotto ($17), which won our first prize. The tiny pasta was a tasty, congealed pile of well-seasoned comfort food, but it was the shrimp that won us over. The restaurant was generous with the big crustaceans, which sat on top of the mound of pasta nibs.

Not surprisingly, this place manages dessert ($6) well. The restaurant's cannoli is heavy on anise. Not bad, just something to know. The tiramisu was creamy, like room-temperature ice cream. As with the entrees, the sweets fell somewhere between light and sinful.

Worth mentioning is that there are coupons on the restaurant's website. Not a bad way to start a business.