It’s just been a consistent fact of my life that I am powerless under the magic of Italian food. Few things make me feel quite as happy as a steaming plate of pasta being placed in front of me. Looking for a little bit of that serotonin boost during the dreary winter months, I booked a Valentine’s Day reservation for me and Nick at A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria here in Salem, MA.
A Mano is located in the same spot as the former 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, and is owned by Executive Chef Antonio Bettencourt, who also owned 62. While I’d heard wonderful things about 62, I’d never gotten the chance to try it during my college years in Salem because, well, my college kid budget didn’t get me much more than Wendy’s. 62 closed and A Mano was born in its place in October 2015. The new restaurant still takes immense pride in crafting its from-scratch Italian dishes (“a mano” literally means “by hand”) but has a slightly more downhome, “approachable” feel, as was the goal of the rebrand. Now that I moved back to Salem with a little more in my pockets than college funds had allowed, I was excited to try this new venture from Chef Bettencourt.
After taking an Uber not even five minutes down the road (hey, it was like -20 degrees out Valentine’s night), Nick and I walked into A Mano and, thanks to our reservations, were seated right away after hanging our coats. The interior of A Mano featured dim lights which are great for sipping your wine and feeling relaxed (not great for me taking photos with my phone, SORRY!). The atmosphere is cozy, with a bar and lounge tables on one side, and on the other, intimate tables and an area set up as one long booth style seat with tables for two placed intermittently, each offering a singular seat on the other side. We were seated in this area, and at first I thought we would be so focused on hearing other guests’ conversations, but that wasn’t the case and all went smoothly.
We “went big” for Valentine’s Day and ordered a bottle of Riesling, my favorite type of wine. We also started out with an “Antipasti” (which I’ve looked up means “before the meal”), the meatballs which were comprised of beef, pork and ricotta with pomodoro over polenta. The appetizer came out with three good-sized meatballs and they were perfectly tender and flavorful. I don’t think I’d ever had polenta before, because I’d never tasted anything quite like it and I think I’m now obsessed. I asked our knowledgeable waitress just what it was, and it’s like a cornmeal paste, kind of like an Italian version of grits. I probably could have been happy with just polenta as a side!
On the A Mano menu, pastas and entrees are separate sections (there’s also pizza and salad). The menu explains that pastas are mid-sized to be a second course before the entree, but you can get an entree-sized portion of any pasta. I decided to go with the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese in the mid-sized plate after seeing what still looked like a filling portion on the table of the person next to me and finding out it was the mid-size. Nick ordered one of the night’s specials, the lasagna (his favorite meal).
The Tagliatelle alla Bolognese was cooked to perfection and I couldn’t get enough of the Bolognese, which included veal, something else I’d actually never had before! I was just being a regular old daredevil with my food that night. The sauce had just the right amount of meat and the homemade aspect of the pasta really enhanced the dish. Nick was very happy with his lasagna, and I tried a bite; it did taste exactly as if an Italian grandma had cooked it up in her own kitchen.
I can’t end a nice dinner without something sweet, so we ordered the Warm Toffee Pudding on a recommendation from our waitress. It was delightful, and sweet it certainly was with a toffee sauce sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Toffee is one of those flavors I find to be more exciting than always getting a dessert focused on the regular old chocolate or vanilla, so I thoroughly enjoyed this ending to our meal.
Chef Bettencourt gets two thumbs up from me for A Mano, and I’m thrilled to have another date night option in our area to visit with Nick or to bring other couples we are friends with to. A Mano allows you to make reservations through OpenTable right on the homepage of their website, (I jump for joy when I can make reservations without calling) so go make one for your next night out and thank me later! 🙂
Featured: A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria – 62 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.744.0062