8255 Clarence Ctr. Rd., E. Amherst, NY 14051
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East Amherst Italian
"The Hungarian Stuffed Peppers appetizer was so impressive that we'd consider it one of the very best items we've eaten locally; unfortunately, it's not part of the regular menu."
Falletta's is an outright challenge to the established business maxim that location is everything, an Italian restaurant that dares to locate itself not on a major thoroughfare but rather in the midst of a largely residential section of Clarence Center Road. It is consequently beautiful inside in the way that only old mansions and restaurants seem to be, with dark woods, high ceilings, mature paint, and a massive globe in the entry, all designed to attract a sophisticated crowd. A waterfall is in the backyard, overlooked by an elevated patio, more touches that wouldn't have been possible had the same proprietors picked a venue on nearby Transit Road. Instead, they place a large sign at the corner of Transit and Clarence Center, hoping to convince people to round the corner. And on this night, they succeeded in bringing us in.
Though it's not busy, our group of three feels just a little too casually dressed for the environment, and it's with a mix of some relief and some disappointment that we find that the rear patio is a little less upscale: less than completely stable plastic picnic tables covered with striped plastic tablecloths, such that our drinks shake a little with the wind and each accidental bump of the plastic chairs. We agree that dining inside is more likely to impress. But as the food starts to arrive, we forget about the table and concentrate on the dinner we've selected from the single-page menu, a mix of almost entirely Italian options divided into veal, chicken, seafood, and pasta selections, with two picks each in the smaller "eggplant" and "grilled" sections. Entree prices start at $13 and climb to $24, with most dishes in the $18-$20 range.
From the short list of $8 to $10 appetizers, we select one that's regularly on the menu - BBQ Shrimp ($10) - and one that's not, Hungarian Stuffed Peppers ($10). Of the two, the peppers are shocking, and for one of the three of us, shockingly good: three large, deep-fried, cheese and sausage filled peppers served with and in a spicy red sauce. Two of us are spice fans, but one finds the dish to be so powerful in this regard that she needs something to cool off, and the other thinks that the preparation is something close to heaven on earth, though it should come with a potency warning; the third of us takes one bite and shies away. Truly great dishes like this one needn't cater to every taste - that's what prevents them from being forgettable - but they do need to find the right audience. By comparison, the Shrimp seem like a waste: four total prawns, grilled and soaked in a gummy barbecue sauce over a lettuce and cucumber salad. They're unremarkable, though sweet and tangy in the way that anything you'd make on your home grill would be.
Next, the salads arrive: small bowls with more lettuce and cucumber now also include tomatoes and croutons, appearing alongside large bottles of requested dressing. Our server has strongly recommended the Poppy dressing, a lightly sweet and gentle option that two of us try and very much like atop the fresh vegetables and croutons, which serve as a palate cleanser after the appetizers. A similarly-sized bowl with four large, fresh slices of sesame-coated Italian bread also shows up before the entrees; everything so far has been fresh and obviously chosen with care.
Our entrees are chosen to fairly sample the menu, and like the appetizers, they leave somewhat mixed impressions. A $16 plate of Eggplant Parmesan arrives looking quite nice, a collection of six or so slices of battered and cheese-covered eggplant slices in a tomato sauce, alongside sweet cooked carrots and a portion of penne pasta. From the somewhat too thin, decidedly less than chunky sauce to the taste and texture of the eggplant, most of the entree seems just a little off, and nowhere near as rich or delicious as similar plates we've had recently at lower prices.
Another dish, the $22 Veal a la Gabrielle, is probably the best of the bunch. Here, a veal cutlet has been pounded to become an oversized, plate-consuming delight, gently breaded and fried to a schnitzel-like gold, then covered in a salsa-like "salad" of diced tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The two of us who share the Veal both truly enjoy the cutlet's flavor, warmth, and properly balanced tender interior and crispy exterior; one of us likes the salad topping, the other finds it too plain and thinks it adds little. Also on the plate are more of the almost candy-like sweet carrots, and a large dollop of mashed potatoes that are quite plain, only lightly flavored with butter and salt. It's a filling but only partially thrilling plate.
Last is the Chicken Alfredo, which starts with a $14 Pasta Alfredo and then adds $7 for the chicken, which is thankfully on the generous side. The member of our group who ordered this creamy, predominantly penne pasta dish picked it because he expects that a good Italian place should be able to do it properly, and was generally satisfied by the results. Served al dente, as expected, the pasta is well seasoned if a little too light on the Alfredo sauce, while the chicken is perfectly cooked: grilled to a light crisp on the outside, and juicy on the inside. Had there been more sauce, he would have been delighted; as-was, he thinks it was very good - enough for two people - and the leftovers worth bringing home.
Very close to stuffed, we opt to take home Falletta's only two desserts: Nanna's Famous Cannoli and the Mile High Chocolate Layer Cake, each $6. Reactions to the Cannoli - sampled before at WingFest as Mrs. Falletta's Famous Cannoli - are generally positive: all three of us like but don't love the extremely smooth filling, which tastes like a clean ricotta, bereft of the nuts, chocolate chips, and other accents that often add a little something special to cannoli; we also enjoy the fresh, sugar-powdered cone, which is different from and better than the one at WingFest. By comparison, the Chocolate Cake was entirely forgettable, a certainly large slice that tasted as if it was made from off-the-shelf mix and frosting, with only a little powdered sugar on top to distinguish it from a slice you'd cut yourself at home. It was fine; each of us had enough after a couple of bites.
With a bill that came out to around $33 per person before tip, Falletta's is far from the most affordable Italian restaurant in East Amherst, and the satisfaction generated by its individual items varies considerably. That having been said, virtually everything was good, and the most remarkable item we sampled - the Hungarian Stuffed Peppers appetizer - was so impressive that we'd consider it one of the very best items we've eaten locally; unfortunately, it's not part of the regular menu. Another one of our three entrees was very close to great, as well, and apart from the shaky patio tables, we were generally very pleased by the atmosphere and the service. With a little polish, Falletta's could be a truly remarkable restaurant; who knows, with dishes like those Peppers, the big sign on Transit mightn't even be necessary?