Saturday Night Taste Test: Isabella's Restaurant

By Susan BushPrint Story | Email Story
Isabella's shrimp cocktail and a glass of the restaurant's July 8 "prosecco of the day."
North Adams - A delightful way to dine on a Northern Berkshires summer evening may be outdoors, surrounded by twilight and the good food prepared and served at Isabella's Restaurant. Owned by Drew and Leigh-Anne Nicastro and named for their five-year-old daughter Isabella, the 896 State Road restaurant is one of the latest North Adams dining options. Parking is more than adequate and the word on this restaurant must be getting out; the parking lot and the restaurant was full to near capacity during the July 8 evening. Upon arrival for our 6:30 p.m. reservation, we were given a choice of indoor or outdoor seating and opted for outdoor. Several tables occupy a long, wooden-floored dining space surrounded by lattice and a lush lawn and garden maintained by Countryside Landscaping. We were seated by Leigh-Anne Nicastro, who thoughtfully sat us so that the setting sun would not introduce a dining distraction. Additional outdoor seating is offered along a brick walkway. Begin With Wine The evening got underway with a peek at the wine list, which includes a respectable selection of red and white wines as well as specialty drinks including Italian soda [vanillia Absolute, Italian vanillia syrup, and soda over ice], and Midnight Passion, which is mixed with raspberry Absolute vodka, Blue Curacao, cranberry juice and "a splash of soda over ice." My husband ordered the "prosecco of the day," which on this day was a glass of light sparkling blackberry wine garnished with two plump, fresh blackberries picked by the little fingers of Isabella herself. He pronounced the libation as "zesty with a nice tang." Would he order the same again if given the chance? "Yup." Move On To Appetizers Isabella's appetizer menu lists fried calamari, shrimp cocktail, breaded mozzarella, antipasto plate, spinach stuffed eggplant, and buffalo wings; the restaurant also offers appetizer specials. A July 8 specials list included mussels and a cheese pizza. We ordered shrimp cocktail and buffalo wings with a mild sauce [choices for wing sauce are mild, medium, and hot]. As we waited for appetizers, we were served a warmed-on-the-premises crisp-crust, light and flaky bread and truly perfectly seasoned dipping oil. The shrimp cocktail came with five very plump shrimp. My husband, who is a shrimp fanatic, declared that the shrimp were "cooked right, not mushy." He was especially pleased with the cocktail sauce and noted that it was a real treat to find a restaurant that knew how to concoct a sauce that wasn't completely overpowered by the taste of horseradish. I enjoyed the buffalo wings, served with a generous bowl of bleu cheese dressing and stacks of carrot and celery sticks. Most impressive was that the "mild" wings I ordered were exactly what I was served, so one can be assured that the expected intensity of the wing sauce is what will be delivered. There were 10 plump and juicy wings on the plate, each one covered with sauce and a crispy skin. Raves For The Main Course For the main meal, my husband ordered steak balsamic accompanied with handcut shoestring fries and a fresh vegetable, in this case, green beans. The 12-ounce ribeye steak was ordered medium-rare and was brought to the table cooked as ordered. Prior to grilling, the steak is marinated in a balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and garlic bath, and the flavor drew raves from my husband. He was also quick to point out that the steak "cut like butter." The fries were tasty as well, with a nice texture and flavor. The beans were truly a testament to what summer fresh vegetables can bring to a dining table. I ordered the veal marsala, also available with chicken. The veal was tender and sweet, the mushroom-and-marsala wine sauce was very smooth and tasty. The meat and sauce were served over firm fettucine and fresh spinach, a combination I found enjoyable. Main courses are served with a "house field green salad." I was delighted with the taste and texture of the sliced grape tomatoes that surrounded a plate of fresh and attractively arranged greens. Please Save Room For Dessert I found only two words that aptly described the restaurant's desserts: delicious and decadent. Of course, we did not sample all the dessert offerings but I was able to hear the exclamations from nearby diners, who ordered lemon cake [with fresh whipped cream and seasonal berries] and bread pudding. Our choices were the Cheesecake Leigh-Anne [his] and the Chocolate Ganache Cake [hers]. There is no need for any dessert review other than this: Freaking Fantastic! Rounding out the dessert choices are gelati and tiramisu, and a selection of dessert coffees and cordials are available. This Is How It's Done Another highlight of the Isabella's dining experience was the service. As a former waitress/bartender with years of "fine dining" and "greasy spoon" experience, allow me to share that it is easy to deliver good service when only a few patrons are seated. The true test of waitstaff quality is when a place is jammin', and Isabella's server "Beth" and busboy "Michael" were more than able to keep up with the Saturday evening pace. The wait between courses was timed to near perfection, and our server was able to immediately answer questions about the food when asked at tableside. Our outdoor meal was not disturbed by the presence of any buzzing intruders, such as mosquitos or gnats. Isabella's prices are reasonable and in keeping with the region. Appetizers are priced at $7 or $8, and fish, chicken, or beef entrees are priced from $14 to $19. An entire section of the menu is devoted to a variety of pastas, sauces, and a choice of accompaniments such as shrimp, meatballs, sausage and vegetables. Pasta meals at priced at $12 with an additional $2 to $5 for add-ons. Entree choices include salmon genovese, veal Isabella, eggplant parmesan, and chicken bruschetta. It is most definitely worth noting that portions are very generously sized; my husband and I did ask to have our leftovers boxed for take-home and our server promptly accommodated that request. Our bill, which included a glass of wine and three courses for two, totaled $72. 25 before the state's meals tax was added. About The Chef Drew Nicastro is Isabella's executive chef. His experience includes work as a sous chef at the Greenwich Country Club, several years of cooking at the former Main Street Cafe in Williamstown, and at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute CulinArt eatery. With the opening of his own restaurant, Nicastro is bringing his talent and knowledge of food to the table. My advice? Eat hearty. Isabella's Restaurant is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are recommended for the weekend. Additional information about Isabella's Restaurant is available by calling 413-662-2239 or via e-mail at . Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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MCLA Green Living Lecture: Framing Messages to Make Them Appealing

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nell Putnam-Farr, assistant professor of marketing at Rice University, will give a talk titled "Framing Messages to Make Them Appealing" as part of MCLA's Green Living Seminar Series at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. 
Green Living Seminar Series webinars are free and open to the public; community members can register for each lecture at All seminars take place weekly on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. through April 14. 
Dr. Putnam-Farr is an assistant professor at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business. 
According to a press release, her research focuses primarily on how framing and contextual cues impact decision making and satisfaction. Within this domain, she considers how framing might have different effects on immediate decisions versus long term satisfaction and persistence, how contextual clues impact expectations and satisfaction, and how intercepting people at the "right" point in the decision process can impact attention and behavior. She works with company partners in the consumer packaged goods, wellness, and financial services sectors, focusing on how to improve financial and physical well-being. She relies on a combination of lab and field experiments—usually testing in the field with a corporate or nonprofit partners and then working to determine a mechanism and/or boundary conditions in the lab. 
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