07 September 2008

Carley's Ristorante - Downtown Harrisburg

Overall Rating: Good Food, Mediocre Service
Highlight: Yummy Gnocchi
Lowlight: Over-fried Olives and Disconnected Server
Veggie Note: A handful of vegetarian dishes occur on the menu, but they are not listed as such so you have to read carefully and be able to translate some Italian ingredients

On a Sunday night a lot of downtown restaurants are closed, so we were happy to find an opportunity here for dinner with a visiting out of town friend.

Carley’s Ristorante is a trendy downtown Italian restaurant with a diverse menu and ample wine list. It was not too busy here considering the limited number of choices on a Sunday night. This was also day one of the first ever restaurant week in Harrisburg. We perused the special menu for the event, but no vegetarian choices were available so we ordered from the standard dinner menu. We had to decide between a few nice sounding appetizers and entrees. Luckily there were three of us so we could sample several and share.

We had the following:


  • Crusty Italian Bread – after we ordered our dinner we were brought a basket of warm crusty bread. It was flaky on the outside and soft and delicious in the middle. There was a bottle of olive oil on our table which was absolutely delicious, no bulk food, low-quality taste here at all.


  • Olive Ripieni – described in the menu as stuffed olives (cheese and pepper) with a garlic aioli dipping sauce, these olives came to our table breaded and deep fried, which was a surprise to us. I like fried olives, so we didn’t have a big problem with this, but it should definitely be mentioned in the description here. These olives were also overcooked; the breading was tough and dry. If you cut them open and pulled the olives out, they were still slightly moist inside. The aioli was very mild, missing a distinct garlic flavor, and could have passed for ordinary mayonnaise (which is fair considering that’s essentially what it is). The family size was plenty for the three of us.


  • Ravioli di Ricotta al Burro e Salvia – Cheese ravioli with butter sage sauce, was tender fresh pasta with a light filling. The butter sauce had some sort of flavor added, maybe a vinegar, that was slightly strong and overpowering. There were fresh tomatoes added as well, not described on the menu. As we were finishing our meal, I noticed other servers offering freshly grated cheese to their customers, ours did not offer us that and this dish definitely would have benefitted from the addition.
  • Risotto alla Millanese– The way this risotto is described on the menu, it definitely gives you the idea that it will be delightfully accompanied by olives, capers, tomatoes, basil, etc… but it was really just risotto with a minimal amount of the additions. It was still good risotto, but again not quite the way it was described in the menu.
  • Gnocchi Putanesca – The highlight entrĂ©e from these three, these gnocchi were fabulously tender and the putanesca had plenty of kalamata olives and capers mixed in. This dish was a definite A+. Note that this is not the gnocchi dish listed on the online menu (at the time this was written).


  • Amaretto Macaroons – four macaroons were served on a plate with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and caramel. The macaroons were good, a little saltier than would be expected and definitely cold in the center like they had been frozen. Four was plenty to share among two people, too bad we didn’t do that. We ended up leaving two behind (we would have liked to have taken them home but our server forgot that we asked for box and was too busy to come back to help us much once we had our check in hand, too bad)
  • Zuppa Inglese - a trifle of chocolate and vanilla mousse with a mascarpone layer on top. This was a delicious treat and very well made. It was rich and heavy and could have been shared as well (although two of us each finished our own without too much effort).

Just a few other notes:

Our server, right from the start, apologized for his service, saying he was “shaky tonight.” He seemed rushed every time he came to check on us, sometimes not even stopping moving as we made requests, asked questions, etc… Most of the servers seemed to be on the ball here though so I wouldn’t call it an all-around problem at Carley’s.

A nice wine list and martini menu was presented to us without request. We ordered a bottle of wine, Italian pinot grigio, to suit our meal. It would have been nice to see a few local selections here, but they did not exist.

This restaurant is very lovely decorated and “live” piano music accompanied our meal (it was player piano).

There is a nice looking baked tomato dish listed on the online menu which was not on the current menu at the restaurant. Be prepared for the menu to be different when you get there as well.

Final Thoughts: It was really nice for three of us to order three different vegetarian meals without having to ask for any substitutions, special requests, etc. It would have been so much better if our service was a little more with it, but I would recommend this as a good downtown vegetarian choice.

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