BELLINGHAM - As I settled in for my first meal at Nona Rosa's downtown, I couldn't help but feel a moment of wistfulness for the many fine meals I had enjoyed in this same spot when it was The Calumet.
But those feelings evaporated when Mauri Ingram, The Calumet's one-time proprietor, came in and sat at a nearby table. Ingram said she visits Nona Rosa's regularly. My expectations soared appropriately, and the Sicilian dishes to come fulfilled them.
After our server welcomed us with an interesting little braided bread loaf, oil and vinegar, we started our meal with calamari salad, $6, and an antipasto plate, $13.
The chewy squid, served chilled, was prepared with an enjoyably tangy dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and capers. The antipasto featured a fine selection of meats and cheeses grouped around a generous portion of an eggplant caponatina, an intensely sweet and savory spread that we enjoyed on the accompanying crostinis - toasted bread wedges.
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For main courses, we chose chicken marsala, $16, and melanzane parmigiano, $13.
The chicken was a mild, subtle and savory blend, in a sauce enlivened with wild musrooms plus a side order of perfectly-cooked pasta. The melanzane is sort of like lasagna, except with layers of fried eggplant instead of pasta sheets. The rich tomato sauce perfectly complemented the earthy eggplant flavor, and it was all delightfully smothered in melted mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
I don't have hard data, but it seems to me that portion sizes at many of the better restaurants here and elsewhere have been shrinking in recent years. This may be partly due to economic factors, but I think this trend was under way well before AIG became famous. My theory: We're learning that we don't need to eat so much. Really we don't.
But if you want to travel back to a more self-indulgent time, Nona Rosa's could be the ticket. Portions here are generous, which did not prevent us from splitting a rich cannoli, $6, for dessert.
This would be a good place for a sumptuous, festive Italian feast. You could also drop in for wine and antipasto if so inclined. The meals here are not bargain-priced, but they are on the low end of the local fine-dining price scale, with all of the entrees and pasta dishes below $20.
Nona Rosa's also sells its cold cuts and other delicacies from a deli counter at the front of the restaurant.
This place seems well-positioned to become a fixture in the downtown dining scene.
Address: 113 E. Magnolia St.
Hours: From 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Price range: $13-$19