Red Sauce in North Adams dishes up classic comfort

Whoever wrote the menu at Red Sauce Ristorante in North Adams definitely had a good time doing it. The dining area is perfect for a menu-planning party, and the bar is long enough to host a good-sized crowd. The walls are a dusky orange and the tablecloths are so red that the room fairly glows with warmth. It’s easy to feel safe in such a place, where people can accidentally trail strings of melted mozzarella into their laps without uptight patrons frowning in their direction. The additional background music, complete with accordions and Tony Bennett-type singers, makes Red Sauce the definition of a stereotypical Italian-American comfort restaurant.

But back to the menu – “Okay, I’ve got it,” someone must have said. “Don’t you think Boston cream pie looks like it’s wearing a suit?” How else could someone have come up with the description, “Our traditional dessert is running for mayor, dressed in a fine chocolate suit and filled with a white chocolate and rum mousse.” It’s hard to picture a mayor who’s filled with rum mousse, but I’m liking the idea.

Mussels in marinara ($9.95) are similarly glamorized on the menu as “Lady’s Dressed in Red: mussels with our signature red sauce, or if you dare, add the spice of the Devil.” The direct challenge is hard to resist, even though the devil’s spice remains a mystery ingredient. Another dish is titled Linguini with Woodbury Clams of Wellfleet ($17.95), and in my shellfish-ignorant state, the name reminds me of some sort of character from Lord of the Rings. Seafood-savvy patrons may recognize the name however, since the Woodbury Clams are actually “the most prized littleneck clams in all of New England,” according to Gourmet Magazine.

For all its quirky descriptions, the food at Red Sauce is far from surprising. This is not necessarily a bad thing – after all, Red Sauce is definitely the place to take picky eaters. Chicken marsala ($14.95) with its wine-glazed mushroom sauce is a standard, and it tastes exactly like someone’s Grandma made it. The mushrooms are probably from a can, and the boiled potatoes are, well, boiled potatoes, but the chicken is tender and some nice carrots and green beans round out the plate.

Cheese filled tortellini with pesto cream ($10.95) is not the light, herby dish that pesto brings to mind, but instead a rich, heavy concoction served with both a fork and a spoon. Don’t get me wrong, cream tastes good, especially when it has turned a delicate green from basil and parsley and other fresh things. However, cream is also rather difficult to spoon up in large quantities, and I soon realized that the huge bowl would be impossible to finish.

Conversely, the baked ravioli ($10.95) arrived in a casserole dish that could only be described as small and adorable. This was a shame, because it involved the restaurant’s namesake: homemade meat marinara that was exactly the taste you imagine when you think of the perfect spaghetti and meatballs. It was thick, smooth and intensely red. The casserole dish was wiped completely clean by the time it was cleared. I found myself wishing that the portions could have been switched as I stared at the lake of cream pesto.

The dessert menu offers the expected tiramisu, cannoli and a flourless chocolate cake, but I went with the ricotta cheesecake that was house-made. It came in a generous wedge, taller and less dense than cakes made with cream cheese. I’m a convert to the fluffy, mild ricotta (somehow you can justify eating more of it when it’s lighter), although the cookie-crumb crust didn’t quite have enough crunch to contrast.

The service at Red Sauce is welcoming and reasonably quick, and there is a very diligent woman who wanders the dining room refilling water glasses at every opportunity. There was also a separate wine list, as well as some fortified dessert coffees that made me long for legal drinking status. All in all, Red Sauce offered no adventures, but instead delivered satisfying comfort food that I am already craving.

Red Sauce is located at 139 Ashland Street in North Adams, MA.

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