Ports of Italy
EAT FEATURE-September 2013 By Amy K. Anderson Photographs by Meredith Brockington
Beautifully simple, absolutely traditional Italian cuisine found in Boothbay Harbor. The experience is enhanced by owner Sante Calandri's charm and larger-than-life personality.
After a 23-year career as a server and maître d' at BiCE, an upscale Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Sante Calandri decided it was time for a change. He wanted to spend more time with his family, and was ready to make the transition from maître d' to business owner. But 2009 was a challenging time to borrow money and find affordable restaurant space in New York and New Jersey. He didn't stop looking; instead, he expanded his range and discovered Ports of Italy in Boothbay Harbor was for sale. Seeing so many positive factors—the price, the name, the beautiful location, and the seasonality of the business—he purchased the restaurant. Although he is away from his family and works constantly from May through October, he makes enough to spend six months during the off-season with his wife and three sons who are now 10, 12, and 20 years old.
Calandri is from Perugia, Italy and he speaks quickly with a thick accent. He's incredibly animated, always moving. My dining companion and I sit in the covered patio area and watch as he flows from one task to the next, talking with customers, greeting new guests, opening wine, and delivering food. He reads his dining room, remembers repeat customers, and knows when to leave people alone; he truly has a gift.
I take in all the action while sipping on a Mionetto spritz served over ice with an orange slice. This isn't your grandmother's white wine spritzer; it's a reinvented, elegant aperitif with a slightly tart flavor and lively bubbles. We also order the Ports of Italy martini made with cuarenta y tres liqueurs (a vanilla- and citrus-flavored liqueur), raspberry vodka, and a floating layer of chianti. This drink is the creation of Josh Tirado, a waiter who studies business management and hospitality at Husson University in Bangor. Originally from the Bronx, Tirado visited Maine when he was eight years old through the Fresh Air Fund. The visit changed his life, and shortly after, he moved to Boothbay Harbor with his mother and sister. He knew little about the restaurant business when starting at Ports of Italy three seasons ago, and now is one of Calandri's most valued employees. "He's a copy of me," Calandri says with pride. "When I first started I didn't know anything; I had to look things up on Google Translate so I could pronounce the wines correctly," Tirado says, then fires off the names of a few Italian wines with ease.
It wasn't always smooth sailing at Ports of Italy, though. Calandri has had to make a series of staffing changes since opening in 2010, but over the past three seasons he has secured a loyal and talented staff. Our waiter, Tony Wojtkow, is knowledgeable and professional. His mother is Italian, his father is Polish, and he lives in England with his own family during the off-season. He's the only employee (besides Calandri) who fillets branzino tableside, and his Italian roots and English professionalism make him a perfect match for the restaurant.
In the kitchen, chef Fabrizio Ventricini and sous chef Nick Panarese make the pasta, sauces, and desserts each day. "I like the kitchen to be traditional, nothing fancy, just classic, nice," Calandri says. And as the meal begins, the combination of simple home-style touches—bread served in a paper bag and approachable menu items like risotto and veal saltimbocca—paired with sophisticated service, creates a balance of casual yet upscale dining. I feel comfortable, and special.
Calandri loves to drink wine, especially whites, and happily opens an array of bottles for us throughout the meal. He starts with a lightly acidic ribolla gialla, a beautifully light wine for the seafood salad and rare yellowfin tuna bruschetta. The salad teems with large, fresh pieces of calamari, mussels, shrimp, lobster, and octopus, all tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing. The bruschetta is just as vibrant, with bursts of garlic, capers, and reduced balsamic vinegar.
Like the menu with its wooden cover and photographs, the wine list at Ports of Italy is different from any I've experienced. Instead of grouping the wines by region or variety, Calandri arranges them by taste, or, as he says, "what happens in your mouth." Spumante is sparkling and bubbly; croccante means lively and clean; vivace is rich and velvety; and audace is spicy and fruity. With so many gorgeous wines to select—nearly 20 by the glass and more than 45 by the bottle—it would be a shame to stick to pinot grigio.
It's during the second course that I completely give myself over to the service and pace of the meal. Wojtkow, our ever-present and professional server, lifts a portion of eggplant rotini from the serving platter with a fork and spoon and gently places it in front of me. All it takes is one bite of the thinly sliced eggplant filled with ricotta cheese and I'm reminded of my mother, Carmela Mildred Ragonese, who passed away in 2010. The very ends of the eggplant, the little pieces that aren't covered with tomato sauce, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese, are firm and just a bit crunchy. This is a dish she'd make; it's simple and from the heart. I wish I could share this meal with my mother. She would love Calandri and his restaurant.
I ask Calandri about his mother and if her cooking inspired his career in hospitality. He says her food is simple, delicious, and fueled by a passion for cooking with beautiful ingredients. "In Italy, we all know how to cook," he says. "We don't do fancy things; it's always simple." For the rest of the meal, I keep my mother in mind and am thankful that Calandri's mother instilled in her son the importance of simple, beautiful ingredients.
When the pasta arrives, it's time for more luscious, full-bodied white wines. The Malvirà roero arneis, a rich wine known for its floral tones and citrus flavor, pairs well with homemade lobster, veal, and spinach ricotta ravioli. The veal is tonight's special, and, in contrast to the light spinach and ricotta ravioli, is rich and creamy. I want more of the delicate lobster ravioli covered with tomato cream and lobster broth, but we move on to Ventricini's homemade gnocchi. Calandri opens the Claude Riffault sancerre, a wine with such depth and minerality it cuts through the creaminess of the gnocchi bathed in a four-cheese sauce and brightens the pesto gnocchi.
Time doesn't matter as we sit on the patio at Ports of Italy; our meal continues and customers around us come and go. At one point during the four-hour meal the entire room sings happy birthday to a table and we all clap as if we're family. Throughout the night, I watch Calandri offer fresh-ground pepper to customers from an electronic pepper grinder. As it grinds, a light from the bottom of the grinder illuminates the dish, showing how much pepper is used. The guests love it, and Calandri's face shines with delight.
When we're ready for more food, Calandri brings out a whole roasted branzino that Wojtkow artfully debones tableside. He makes the task look effortless as he removes the head and tail, fillets the meat, and presents the roasted fish in minutes. It's cooked in rosemary, garlic, olive oil, white wine, and lemon and has a firm, buttery texture. We're also served another well-known Ports of Italy specialty, the suckling pig porchetta with herb-roasted potatoes and broccoli. The porchetta is made by layering pork loin on top of pork belly that's seasoned with garlic, rosemary, thyme, and sage. The meat is rolled, tied, and roasted until it's juicy and reaches a deep mahogany color. Each night the porchetta is proudly displayed in the main dining area surrounded by an assortment of marinated salads and vegetables. I admire the care it takes to make this dish and savor its richness.
Thankfully, dessert is a small portion of three specialties: panna cotta, tiramisu, and cannoli. Each dessert is made in-house, but the cannoli is my favorite. The outside crust is flaky and dusted with pistachios, and the sweetened ricotta filling is dotted with tiny chocolate chips and candied orange pieces. This is exactly how I want to end my dining experience at Ports of Italy—enjoying a cannoli and sipping a glass of Maculan Dindarello Moscato, a dessert wine with subtle hints of orange and honey.
Calandri enhances the dining experience at Ports of Italy with his endearing accent, utmost professionalism, and vivacious energy. When he says, "It's a beautiful life, a good life. I love the restaurant business," I know he means it. From May through October Calandri can be found doing what he does so well—catering to his guests and sharing authentic Italian cuisine with those who visit the beautiful town of Boothbay Harbor.
50+ Top Dining Spots in Maine
Maine magazine - EAT FEATURE - March 2013 By Joe Ricchio, Photographs by Dan Soley + Meredith Brockington
Eating at Ports of Italy in downtown Boothbay Harbor is like going to a friend's house for dinner. Owner Sante Calandri is charming, and his enthusiasm and passion for food is contagious. He makes the pastas and desserts himself, and the porchetta is not to be missed. This is food truly made from the heart. They are open seasonally from May through October.
Italian for Beginners
A new owner adds spark to a Boothbay Harbor landmark.
Review by Diane Hudson - July / August 2010
What to do when you learn that the restaurant you're about to review has changed, literally overnight? We arrive at highly acclaimed Ports of Italy only to discover the Italian chef-owner has left the night before. Regardless, the place is packed. As we huddle in the foyer, we see and hear the new owner, Sante Calandri, moving purposely about, soothing wait staff and customers. We immediately have faith in him and decide to stay. Colorful and engaging, Calandri–a native of Perugia, a province in central Italy–welcomes us warmly. Hailing from a 23-year stint at Manhattan's BiCE, he tells us he's bought Ports of Italy after visiting Boothbay and thinking, "This is so beautiful. Why haven't I been here my whole life?" You'll think the same, with food this good. All pastas are made fresh in-house, as are the succulent sauces and other genuine Italian fare.
After tearing into the house's legendary tasty, fresh-baked bread served generously with extra good, extra virgin olive oil flecked with roasted black olive pieces, we begin with bresaola ($10)–beef rubbed in spices and air-cured in the Italian Alps. Sliced paper thin, this delicate, lean meat, served with arugula and shaved celery, is a tantalizing treat, as is the golden-crusted, fried goat cheese that comes with it. Equally good is the insalata di finocchio, with fresh fennel, orange filets, capers, parsley, and lemon oil over tangy greens ($7).
Our entrées are met with equal, unanimous enthusiasm. The velvety and moist risotto del giorno (priced daily) is just the right texture, and the rich flavors of the red-wine reduction and Gorgonzola sauce highlight the accompanying fork-tender beef tenderloin, cooked precisely as ordered. What can we say? Il paradiso! Generally finicky about gnocchi ($17), my partner has no complaints. Tossed with Italian sweet sausage, mushrooms, and cream, these handsome potato dumplings disappear quickly.
Deciding the tagliatelle with sauce Bolognese ($17) will be "the true test," our friend and faithful believer in Ports of Italy as it was before keeps us in suspense as he muses over the first few bites. He beetles his brow. Then there's the grin. Yes, the sauce wins him over! The wines here, too, intrigue. The Fattoria Capannacce Rosso della Maremma Toscana Super Tuscan 2005 ($26) holds up well throughout. For a sweet finish to a magic evening, we share cannoli and a refreshing raspberry crème brûlée, cooled by a perfect ocean breeze. Do you believe in serendipity? It's as though we've arrived here at precisely the instant this place has gone from good to great.
Ports of Italy, 47 Commercial Street, Boothbay Harbor Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., 633-1011
The Coastal Journal - Review
August 09, 2012
by Bruce M. Hardina, Coastal Journal Editor & Publisher
BOOTHBAY HARBOR — On Saturday, July 28, my wife Elaine, my 9-year-old daughter Olivia, and I went to dinner at Ports of Italy in Boothbay Harbor. I should start by telling you that I am Italian, born and raised in New York. My standards are high when it comes to all restaurants, but particularly for Italian ones. I have sat down at a dinner table where the grandparents didn't speak English. So I have been exposed to traditional and extraordinary Italian food. At Ports of Italy, all their pasta is homemade. That is impressive from the start, just because of the labor involved in making pasta from scratch. Sante is the owner. He was born and raised in Italy. In his 20s, he immigrated to America and spent many years training in a top-notch restaurant in Manhattan. Ports of Italy is on the second floor right downtown. Even my 9-year-old daughter Olivia immediately recognized the feeling produced by the scene. The moment we walked in, I could tell this was going to be a fine evening, and was hoping the food would be good as well. The owner greeted us with a strong Italian accent. Our server was European, and other wait staff was clearly Italian. We discovered over dinner that our server was in fact British, but spoke fluent Italian and summers in midcoast Maine for the obvious reasons.
We started our dinner with a Bellini, a traditional Italian drink made from a sparkling wine known as Prosecco, and peach nectar. It was smooth, light, refreshing, and not too sweet. Then they brought freshly baked bread with olive oil and a special ingredient. The young Italian woman, one of two people serving us, said it was a secret when I asked about it. I suspect it was many tiny pieces of olive skin. It added significant flavor to an already obviously very high quality oil. It was fresh, clean, rich.
For an antipasti, we had Rollatini di Melanzane, described as rolled eggplants with a stuffing of ricotta and parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, garlic and tomato sauce, topped with fresh mozzarella, for $10. The cheeses were unusually good – no, delicious. The eggplant was cooked to perfection.
Elaine had Insalata di Campagna, described as cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, and local arugula, with fresh oregano tossed in red wine vinaigrette, for $8. I had the Insalata di Finocchio, described as shaved fennel, orange segments, and assorted field greens with capers, in lemon dressing, $10.
I was surprised how subtly wonderful the shaved fennel was. Both salads were absolutely fantastic! Elaine had a glass of the shiraz and I had the cab. We shared and agreed they were both excellent. We also had a marinated vegetable antipasti. It was all delightful. Even the lower stalk of the asparagus was fabulous, flavorful, not stringy or woody.
For the entree, I had the Ravioli D' Aragosta, described as handmade ravioli stuffed with lobster in a light champagne and Aurora sauce for $22. Elaine had Pollo Alla Romana, described as sautéed boneless chicken breast and italia sausages with red and yellow peppers, onion, and garlic, in balsamic vinegar, $18.
I took a bite of a ravioli and tasted an explosion of luscious flavor. I had to pause I was so in awe of it. I turned to Elaine and insisted she take a bite. Her facial expression mirrored my experience. Her chicken melted in our mouths. The breast, which can be plain tasting and dry, was moist, possessing superb flavor. While we were eating, Andrea Bocelli's "Romanza" was playing in the background. I didn't even notice it for a while, but it helped set the mood.
For dessert, we had Panna Cotta Di Frutta Di Stagione, a very light Italian vanilla custard made of fresh seasoned fruit, $8, and Cannoli Alla Siciliana, which is a handmade original pastry shell with fresh, sweet ricotta cheese, candied oranges, and chocolate chips, $8. I've had many cannolis in my life, mostly in New York, but a few in Maine. These were as good as any I have ever had. I took a bite and savored it in my mouth, closing my eyes and slowly allowing a little at a time to slide down my throat. It probably took me a good minute or more with that first bite. Olivia was interested in the Panna Cotta. It was a very generous portion. But by the time I opened my eyes and looked over at it, this 50-pound girl had nearly finished it. I managed to acquire a teaspoon-full, enough to realize it was wonderfully delicious and refreshing.
We finished up with a refreshing, sparkling Italian beverage, different from the one we started with, but no less pleasant. Elaine said "Oh my God" more than once during our meal, the food was so magnificent. When I asked her to describe the meal overall, she just said "stellar." The Italian cheeses were far better tasting than we normally are accustomed to in Maine, or most places in the United States for that matter. Each tomato sauce was simultaneously outstanding and distinct from the others. Without reservation, I can say that the chef was masterful at his craft. The staff could not have been more accommodating nor appropriately attentive. The romantic accents added even further to the whole feel of the evening. Ports of Italy is truly a jewel in the midcoast. Don't let the summer go by without visiting. Thank you, Sante, for an outstanding dining experience.
Boston Globe - Dine
Need a sweet treat to start your morning? Head to Baker's Way (90 Townsend Ave., 207-633-1119) for fresh doughnuts and excellent sticky buns, and then return later in the day for Vietnamese fare ($8-$11). Enjoy either in the backyard garden. If you're craving a crustacean, the lobster rolls from the Trevett Country Store (Barters Island Road, Boothbay, 207-633-1140) are considered among the state's best. "Free Beer Tomorrow" proclaims the sign in front of Bet's Fish Fry (Route 27, on the Boothbay Common), a seasonal takeout shack renowned for generous servings of ultra-fresh fried haddock. If you find yourself in the mood for something a little more uptown, pair elevated harbor views with well-prepared tapas at the Boathouse Bistro (12 The By-Way, 207-633-0400, www.theboathouse bistro.com, $3-$15). And Sante Calandri prepares rave-worthy classic Northern Italian fare at Ports of Italy (47 Commercial St., 207-633-1011, www.portsofitaly .com), with most choices in the $20s.
48 Hours: Boothbay Harbor
Submitted by Heather O'Bryan Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The editorial staff at Maine magazine is at it again! Traveling to a Maine destination where they spend 48 hours. They visited the MORNING REPORT to tell us about it. This time the team went to Boothbay Harbor. Susan Grisanti, Editor-in-Chief of Maine magazine and Mali Welch, Production Manager shared their experience.