December 6, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): If you're looking for Italy, head to downtown Augusta

George and Linda Smith

We enjoy Italian-American food, but despaired of ever finding the authentic Italian food we love without having to leave Maine  — until we got to Gagliano’s Italian Bistro in downtown Augusta. It was an amazing surprise!

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IF YOU GO . . .

Gagliano’s Italian Bistro
ADDRESS: 287 Water Street, Augusta
PHONE: 213-4708
HOURS: Open Monday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.,
serving lunch and dinner.
RESERVATIONS are recommended,
especially on weekends.


I've been searching for authentic Italian food ever since our first trip to Italy. It's a taste unlike the Italian food we find here in the U.S. And lo and behold, the flavors I've been craving are being served at a relatively new restaurant on Water Street in Augusta -- Gagliano's.

Helena, the owner, greets us at the door with warmth and exuberance. She grew up in Italy, lived in Sweden for part of her childhood and was living in Florence when she met her American husband.

Her English is impeccable, as she had studied to be an interpreter. But there wasn't much need for that career in Maine, and she told us she "decided to do what all good Italians do -- open a restaurant." Thank goodness for that. She sought out a chef from Italy, and you will hear Italian conversations among some of the staff.

Helena's goal is to get whatever they can fresh, and import most ingredients from Italy -- making it truly Italian. The gnocchi, ravioli and some pastas are made right at the restaurant. They make all of their own dressings, sauces and desserts. And it shows in all of the food we tasted.

You will start with bread served with garlic aioli sauce. It's not a mayonnaise-type aioli though. Helena gives me a full description of that sauce once I inquire about it. Whole milk, garlic and canola oil are whipped into a frothy perfection and it's just heavenly on the baguette slices.

I don't even know where to start with my order because all the familiar dishes that remind me of great meals in Italy are here, and I want to try them all. The menu has Italian names of the dishes, but don't panic because the descriptions are in English.

I started with a small Caesar salad that came with slices of lemon and big shavings of Parmesan. Their dressings are fantastic, and I appreciate being served an appropriate-sized salad so I can enjoy my main course. We were anxious to try a sampling of their pastas, and ended up with a trying small portions of gnocchi and ravioli, as well as a full portion of the pappardelle with duck ragu (meat sauce).

Holy cow. The first bite of the gnocchi was the pillowy soft version served in Italy. In fact, it was better than some we tried over there! I ordered the Gorgonzola walnut sauce, making this a very rich dish. I'm not sure I could eat a whole portion, but George assures me he certainly could. The delicious handmade pumpkin ravioli came in a sage and pistachio sauce.

I wanted to try something new, so I ordered the Braciolette di Maiale, a pork loin stuffed with sage, ham and mozzarella. This is not a New England style serving of pork. It is both different and delicious. Roasted potatoes and perfectly cooked zucchini and asparagus round out this dish making it a bargain at $18. George and I shared this dish as well as the pasta dish with duck, and both were amazing.

Helena promotes her food so well, and we really wanted to try so many dishes. It would have been enough for several meals! It's now on our agenda to come back to try other entrees featuring veal or chicken, but it's hard to forgo that perfect pasta! Thank goodness Gagliano's is a restaurant in our backyard. We'll certainly be back.

(Continued on page 2)

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