Allegro dishes up fine northern Italian

Allegro Ristorante may be in Bennington, Vt., but don’t let the state border intimidate you – I clocked in at 20 minutes with the addition of two cop sightings along the way. Bennington is no metropolis, but it has a bustling, brightly lit Main Street that is perfect for before-dinner exploration. Allegro is located in the midst of all this, with a large paneled window that looks into the warm, softly lit interior of the restaurant. Open since last May, the restaurant features exposed brick walls that try for trendy; but the resultant atmosphere seems more casually elegant than cutting edge chic.

Head chef Geoffrey Klose co-owns Allegro along with his wife Anna Sturges, and the service is quick enough to live up to the restaurant’s name. Allegro entertains a varied crowd, including lone regulars who flirt with waitresses over a glass of white wine at the bar, and a young man out on a date with his mother. There is an extensive wine menu containing pages of red and white wines with fancy (to my untrained eye) Italian names. I spent most of my time on the other menu, which featured such hearty North Italian fare as stuffed eggplant with Fontina cheese and asparagus ($8), and diver sea scallops with bell pepper salad over lemon risotto ($19). The obligatory fried calamari found at every Italian restaurant was decorated here with a basil beer batter and served with pepperoncini and caramelized balsamic vinegar.

The danger of this region’s cuisine lies in its abundant deep-frying and use of heavy cream sauces. The food at Allegro, however, manages to satiate but not sicken. After a thankfully short wait, I had the handmade pasta of the day, which came as four plump wild boar ravioli served with a dollop of marinara sauce. The filling was that perfect combination of meaty and cheesy goodness, yet the pasta was small enough to prevent it from being too rich. Shying away from the hefty-looking entrées like strip steak with melted taleggio cheese, I found something called Panzanella, which was described as a sort of glorified salad. It arrived in an impressively vertical heap: mixed greens were doused in roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette and topped with warm slices of grilled chicken. As good as it was, the chicken was no match for the mozzarella that came in cubes so tender that they still tasted like fresh milk. This mozzarella comes from a local cheese market that thrives in Bennington. After all, it is Vermont. My salad also featured grilled Tuscan bread chopped into chunks like croutons, only chewier and somehow better.

The waitress barely had to work to get me to order the tiramisu, the house specialty. It arrived as a delicate sponge finger biscuit underneath a large square of mousse that looked deceptively airy. However, the bliss-inducing combination of mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, cream and all things evil was anything but light. My fork actually stood vertically in it, as though of its own accord. Yet somehow, at this point, I no longer cared about those hefty calories. The combination of espresso and cocoa powder prevented the sweetness from cloying; and the lingering taste of rum made me feel sophisticated despite the inordinate amounts of whipped cream I was inhaling.

Allegro is perfect for that first date, where you want to impress her with your knowledge of the local area, or avoid rubbing elbows with your lab partner or her JA brother. No specific dress code applies (although you might want to avoid mini-skirts), and my three-course meal came to the modest total of $27. Who knew that Vermont had so much to offer?

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