So I've often thought that Jane Slaughter (one of the Metro Times food critics) is either crazy, or just plain the opposite of me. I often think her "swoony" reviews are nothing great at all, and her "meh" reviews can tend to be quite great to me. Let it never be said that I can't admit when I'm wrong: Jane's absolutely on the money with her review of this place a week or so ago. I am not easily impressed, especially when it comes to Italian, but this place gets two thumbs *way* up from this guy based on my first visit. If you can get by the decor/building itself, you're going to be very, very happy that you went.
So let's start with that, then: there's nothing magical or romantic about the place itself. Honestly, as soon as you pull up, you get that feeling that it's another Generic Mexican Food Restaurant, because that's *exactly* what it looks like, even when you walk in. They're doing what they can to battle the effect, but it's there. Don't worry about it...it's not about the decor. Soon, you won't *care* about the decor. Really.
On to the food. Oh, the glorious food, the glorious *dirt cheap* food. I mean, dear sweet merciful heavens, the price structure is budget-friendly. Budget-friendly a la Zayeqa a couple years back.
Every entree, whether pasta or specialty, comes with either a cup of soup or a salad. There's always minestrone, chicken noodle, and a daily soup. When I walked in, the first thing I did when I walked up to the counter and asked to see a menu was what today's soup was. Was I ever pleasantly surprised when I heard the delightful young woman say "It's a carrot/ginger soup, and it's great!" Talk about a surprising soup for an Italian joint, but it sure had me intrigued and excited.
The first thing I had served to me was a nice little ramekin of a bean-type sauce which had some merit, served with a few pieces of toast points with cheese on them. I immediately asked if I could get some without cheese, which they couldn't do, but they did bring me some pretty good bread with some garlic butter as a substitute. Very nice of them to do that, and they certainly didn't have to, considering that it's just a nicety. A nice start.
Then that soup came. It's *always* gratifying when you realize you chose correctly amongst the choices, and I'm absolutely convinced that I did. That carrot/ginger soup was just so, so good. Wonderful, really, and could have been served any time of year, hot during this season, or chilled during the summer, and it would always be welcome on my palate. Always. It was the affirmation I needed that the chef really knew what he was doing in the kitchen. This soup was so good that I got a large to-go container of it for my girlfriend and her family. I'm certain they'll like it...we'll just see whether the whole container makes it to them or not. What a satisfying bowl of loveliness it was.
I wasn't sure of what to have for the main, whether a pasta or a meat course, but since the price structure is just so stinking gentle, I decided to go with Veal Marsala, as I'm an absolute sucker for mushrooms and marsala wine sauce. At dinner, this entree (with soup or salad!) along with some pan-fried diced potatoes, and perfectly cooked broccoli and cauliflower, is a jaw-dropping $12. For lunch? $9. I did not mistype there.
In a thought, this dish anywhere else would have been twice that price, and it would have been worth it. The veal was wonderfully tender, with great flavor, and the mushrooms and sauce were a savory-lover's dream. There wasn't a single thing on that plate that didn't make me very, very happy. I'm sure that those who know me know that I'm able to put away a good deal of food, especially when I'm hungry. I was, and when I was done, I was satisfied. More than that, I was just plain happy. What a great plate, stem to stern, and when I say it's a bargain, you *know* it is.
I was thinking about having some chocolate gelato at the end, but it wasn't made in house, and I was quite full. The tiramisu and cheesecake are house made, though, but I passed on dessert altogether. Still, it's a thought for a future endeavor.
The service was just terrific. VTB would be happy to know that the two servers on the floor were both of the PYT variety, but more than that, they were extremely pleasant, eager-to-serve/please, and they weren't afraid to ask the chef a question, nor to chime in when asked if they liked this or that. I enjoyed my interaction with them, and I tipped well (at these prices, how could you not?), even on the take-out, which I basically never do. My total bill, out the door, with my soup, entree with sides, bread with bean-infused spread, a large to-go container of the soup, tax and tip, was all of $22. I think the pre-tip total was $18.04, and I just upped it to $22. They earned it. The additional large soup was $5, plus tax. Again: bargain!
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this place. The talent level of the chef in the kitchen is so surprisingly high, and the digs are just so low-brow. It's very clean, but it's just about the exact opposite of the type of place you'd expect to find high-quality Italian fare. It's here, though. As I was thinking about it, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to places like Giovanni's, in terms of the quality of the fare. I don't know yet if the pasta dishes will be up to the snuff of Giovanni's, but I guaran-stinking-tee you that I'll be finding out, and hopefully soon!
*Why* do all these great Italian destinations have to be so far from my house in Waterford?