Lamb chops at Arugula.

Lamb chops at Arugula.

by Sam Gugino

A hallmark of authentic Italian cooking is simplicity, allowing high quality ingredients (such as prosciutto de Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano) to show their greatness without embellishments like cream sauces and melted cheese. At Arugula in Plymouth Meeting, which features the cuisine of the Amalfi Coast, the food can be quite good, but some dishes are simply too gussied up.

Saltimbocca, for example, is classically veal scallops, fresh sage and prosciutto, floured, then sautéed in butter and deglazed with white wine. At Arugula, it gets gilded with mozzarella and garlic. The dish wasn’t bad, it just could have been better without the cheese and garlic. In one instance, gaudification can be done by the diner, something I don’t recommend. Arugula serves the best lamb chops I’ve eaten in years. They were robustly marinated with olive oil and rosemary, and perfectly cooked medium rare. So, they didn’t need the side dish of pomegranate sauce.

That said, Arugula deserves a round of applause for serving grass-fed meats, free-range chicken and organic produce. If only it could serve some decent bread.

Grilled octopus was an appetizer special that was delicious in a rustic sort of way with tomatoes and olives. Hearty enough for red wine, it had a pleasant char but the portion should have been reduced in size and price ($17) lowered. Fig and goat cheese salad, another appetizer special, was fruity with a sweet-sour tang and a nice arugula bite. But why use dried figs when fresh were in season?

Cappellini Amalfi featured tender angel hair pasta with a delectable combination of cherry tomatoes, jumbo lump crab, and thin slices of garlic that, while cooked, still contained a nice crunch. I ordered this to share with my wife as a separate course, which at almost every other Italian restaurant comes evenly divided on two plates. At Arugula, a full portion was plopped in front of my wife and a side plate was given to me. Then the waiter disappeared.

Other service faux pas included the all-too-frequent failure to give prices of specials and not knowing who gets what when food arrives at the table, inexcusable when there were only two people.

Desserts are not made on the premises but the two we had were better than many that are. Bomba was a chocolate dome covering a core of peanut caramel surrounded by vanilla ice cream, something that would send Reeses’ fans into orbit. Mascarpone and lemoncello cake was incredibly moist, sweet without being cloying, and gently alcoholic.

As befits its location in the newish Cold Point Village complex, there is a cool, clean and breezy look to Arugula with taupe walls, thin blinds and dark woods. Unfortunately, odd wooden wall art and peculiar leaf motif ceiling light fixtures detract from this look.

Arugula, 2350 Butler Pike, Plymouth Meeting, 610-941-1177, www.arugulacoldpoint.com

Monday to Thursday 11 am-4 pm, 5–10 pm; Friday & Saturday,11 am-4 pm, 5–11pm, Sunday 4 –10 pm. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. Entrees, $19-$34.

WINES

As Southern Italian cuisine has gone beyond spaghetti and meatballs in the past few decades, wines from Southern Italy (Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria), and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia have increased in quality and popularity.

Because of the warm climates in these regions, reds predominate but there are whites of merit, such as Vermentino in Cantina Di Santadi Vermentino Di Sardegna Villa Solais 2014 (Code: 49553 $14.99). Aromatic with good body and a nuanced spice note, it makes a good foil for the grilled octopus, though its acidity allows it to pair well with salads. Abbruzzo is geographically in central Italy but culturally it’s southern. Trebbiano is the most widely planted white grape in Italy and can often be insipid (or lost entirely in blends) but the Talamonti Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2014 (Code: 49654, $9.99) is fruity, fresh and clean as well as a good value.

Among reds, there are plenty to choose from right in Campania, many from just one producer, Mastroberardino. The dark and full-bodied Mastroberardino Aglianico Campania IGT 2011 (Code: 43839, $13.99) is perfect for red meats and game. Negroamaro is the primary red grape of Puglia, Italy’s heal. Conti Zecca Donna Marzia Negroamaro del Salento IGT 2013 (Code: 47924, $12.99) is ripe and gently spicy, though not as firmly structured as the Aglianico. Nero d’Avola is the signature red grape of Sicily and is almost always a bargain, like the Villa Pozzi Nero D’Avola 2014 (Code: 6675, $10.99).

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