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Restaurants & Bars 12

Merlo update (1st time visitor)

mark | Mar 20, 200310:21 AM

Been trying to go since they were profiled in the Reader over a year ago. Overall: A very good experience that lived up to advance praise I've read here and elsewhere, but also some minor glitches.

Phoned in the morning to make a res. for yesterday evening. The outgoing message said that reservations left by voice mail would be confirmed. By 5:45 I had not heard from them so I called back and confirmed for 6:45. When I arrived for dinner the host looked in the book and said, enigmatically, "we were not able to call you back," with no further explanation.

Waiting for my wife to arrive, I sat at the bar and perused the wine list. Seeing that they stocked the Felluga Merlot I asked if they ever had their Pinot Grigio, which I have always found distinctive and splendid. The man sitting 2 stools down chimed right in in agreement. There's nothing as cozy as finding like-minded people sitting next to you at the bar.

Meanwhile the wine list seems very thoughtfully chosen with a good mix of prices and both familiar and unfamiliar choices - but almost none of the ubiquitous and boring wines one finds everywhere else - think Santa Margherita.

Once seated, our waiter was genuinely enthusiastic without being overbearing. I ordered a glass of Barbera d'Alba and he expressed a preference for the Barbara d'Asti. It was a wine I hadn't had and it was absolutely packed with fruit and earth flavors. Whether it was better than my initial choice, I don't know, but it was certainly a worthy recommendation.

The bread basket contained wonderfully rich tasting focaccia, and best of all a lighlty salty, thin, crackly something that I don't know the name of but found instantly addicting. (Does anyone know what these are called? It seems like the ideal wine biscuit. Made me desparate for some sort of spread - olive, liver, white bean - anything.)

We shared the fried seafood appetizer which was plenty for 2 and beautifully light.

We then had the tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. (Once again, as we were discussing the menu, a neighboring diner leaned over and let us know that the ragu was really wonderful. It seems to be that kind of place, which I like.)

The ragu was indeed wonderful: intense flavor and perfectly cooked fresh pasta.

We also had the tagliatelle ai funghi misti, which was the only relative disappointment. I am a mushroom fanatic, and this dish seemed to be over salted with little other flavor coming through. None of the deep woodsiness one expects from mushromms. Nor was there really a sauce to speak of binding it all together, just the mushrooms and the noodles. If wine was involved in the cooking, I couldn't taste it.

Dessert was the justly praised panna cotta. And the equally satisfying Torta della nonna, with custard, berries and pine nuts in a pastry shell.

Service was good throughout the meal, with no rushing nor any plates lingering too long before being cleared.

I still wish a dinner like this could be had for about $10-$15 less. I particularly wish that one could find interesting wine by the glass for about $6-$7 instead of $9-$10, but it was very enjoyable nonetheless. (All in all it reminded me of Terzak's restaurant on Armitage near Bissell that was so popular in the 80s. What was its name? I used to enjoy that until the last couple of years when it seemed to have lost something.)

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