It is rare for me to write a negative review, that I really dislike a place. A recent simple dinner at Antonia's in Davis Sq. presents a chance to do so, I regret.
Charles Herbert and I stopped in on Sunday night after a movie - there was one other couple in the place - it is a small dining room with the "kitchen" open at the back of the room - a little too close for comfort and the occasional burned smell wafted through - luckily they had good ventilation, which alleviated this problem but made for a very breezy interior.
There was music playing, but save for one Sinatra tune, it was this very odd Tesh/Yanni new-agey lounge beat that was distracting at first, then gave way to quiet laughter and mocking at our table. It was intrusive, with birdsong and other bad 80s synth sounds...
Being a late dinner hour, we ordered two simple pasta dishes - small to average portion - both plates costing $16...
1) Ziti with some sort of sauce (I can't remember the name) with pancetta, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, cream and wine, I think. Frankly it was a decent tasting sauce - good flavors - but the big problem is that it came out on a flat plate and the pasta was literally swimming in the amount of sauce provided. Made for a very unappetizing presentation. The mushroom were white mushrooms, fresh. The cherry tomatoes were tasty, but should have been chopped up to add to the flavor. At $16, however, this was about $4-5 more than this was worth.
2) Charles ordered the fettucine carbonara. This came out in the same soupy presentation - it was literally swimming in the cream sauce. I tasted it when it first came out and it seemed ok, but let me reiterate that the excess sauce made it REALLY look and taste unappetizing. It was dripping in sauce - more sauce to the forkfull than pasta - really just kind of gross.
Charles struggled mightily, and after a taste or two of mine, I could clearly see the pain and envy in the eyes, so we switched plates.
Now I can be very accommodating, but this supposed carbonara sauce was definitely NOT a carbonara.
Alfredo sauce: a rich sauce of butter, grated PARMESAN CHEESE, heavy cream and plentiful grindings of black pepper.
Carbonara: a sauce composed of cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon. The sauce is heated only until it begins to thicken (2 to 3 minutes).
I've had lots of carbonara before and I am willing to bet that this was a doctored alfredo sauce from a jar - with bits of bacon and some extra parmesan thrown in. It was really awful. As the plate cooled, it quickly turned to SPACKLE - almost inedible. I haven't had amateurish Italian food like this, either incompetent or worse, passing one sauce off as another, in years.
My opinion may also be colored by the fact that I spied the chef cooking what turned out to be my ziti by pouring in the pasta straight from the Barilla box! Not a huge deal, but don't let the customers see it! Before the plates even arrive, I am already thinking that I could have made this at home.
The server/hostess was nice enough, but very awkward - she asked if we wanted a second glass of wine when we were nearly finished with dinner - asked if we wanted to take the remainder of the food home, when there was practically nothing on either of the plates -
Each of these little mis-steps alone is not a big deal, but taken as a whole...
The smallish portions -
The cheesy music -
The breezy environs -
The relatively high price -
The soupy presentation -
The awkward server -
The spackle! I am not kidding...
Just not worth it. Who knows? Maybe cream-based sauces are their Achilles heal.
I noted upon googling that the menu we were presented is VERY different than the ones online - and there were several notes that management had changed...so watch out if you haven't been back. Appetizers are all around $10 - pastas all around $16 - and entrees all high teens to low twenties. Charles also noted that the menu seems to have changed since the last visit.
If this was not just some terrible convergence of lots of bad little experiences, I can't believe this place will last much longer.