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Restaurants & Bars 9

Osteria Latini - don't believe the hype

jcwla | Jan 26, 2004 12:19 AM

Let me be the first to dissent on Osteria Latini -- though we certainly didn't hate it.

I made a reservation for dinner for three tonight at 8. They asked for my phone number but never gave a call to confirm.

We arrived and to my surprise had our choice of several tables -- Sunday night is usually a big night for Italian restaurants and the place was half empty.

A poster here wrote that they had received an amuse at dinner on Friday night. We did not receive one tonight.

Our server was a blond actor type who didn't exactly instill a lot of confidence in the authenticity of the food.

He handed us menus -- which offer about half a dozen choices of appetizers, pastas, fish, meats, etc. -- and then proceeded to rattle off thirteen or fourteen first course specials and half as many entree specials. We were all amazed that he had memorized everything, but the larger problem is that the restaurant is casting too wide a net. When that many things are "special," almost invariably none of them are special.

He then put us through the now-ubiquitous interrogation about flat, sparkling, etc. water. This must be stopped.

Out came ordinary-looking bread with the typical olive tapenade and some nice big chunks of tomato with basil. This was a nice touch and we asked for a couple more of these little side dishes throughout the course of the meal.

For first courses, one of us had an artichoke and hearts of palm salad with shaved parmesan -- and only liked the parmesan. I tasted the artichokes and hearts of palm and thought they were fine, but he said he didn't like the dressing.

One ordered the scallop appetizer, which turned out to be breaded scallops on a bed of arugula. I wasn't brave enough to try those, though she liked them.

I had soup -- puree of broccoli, no cream, no oil -- which was delicious but didn't stay warm long enough. I sent it back and asked them to bring it to me piping hot, which they did.

For main courses, one had chicken parmigiana that was pounded very thin and (not even completely) covered with what looked to me like a stingy amount of cheese. She said it tasted good, but it bore no resemblance to what I think of as chicken parmigiana -- e.g., the diet-busting c.p. at Peppone's.

Another had the rack of veal, which he said was very good. I don't eat veal, so no comment.

I had the whitefish but, since both it and the sole were listed as sauteed on the menu, asked them to broil it instead. It was tasty and I ate all of it -- though I could not say the same about the bland spinach and carrots that came with it. This plate too cooled off too quickly and had to be reheated.

Throughout the meal the service was spotty -- well-meaning, it seemed, but not as readily available as it should have been given the sparse attendance. And the blond's memory apparently ended with the specials.

At the end of the meal, though, two different servers came by to hawk desserts. No takers. Then they brought out the lemon sorbet/meringue/champagne concoction, which I found frankly ridiculous. Two of us took one baby sip each and the one who liked it took two or three.

Don't know the exact amount of the bill since I didn't pay. One thought the prices were lowered "introductory" prices that would be raised in short order. I didn't find them all that low -- $10 for appetizers, $20 for entrees. Valet was $3.50.

A couple of little things. I've always believed you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the state of the restrooms. The men's room had no decorations or frills, but did have an unflushed urinal and urinal water all around the urinal, which meant stepping around it to get to the toilet or even to use the sink.

The decor of the place is essentially nonexistent. It's a purely functional layout, with tables cramped closely together (think Angelini Osteria) and little of the feeling of hominess that better Italian restaurants provide.

They've finally taken the white plastic banner up and put up an actual nameplate, though the banner is still visible atop the roof and a little tacky.

In short, the food was fair to good, but in all other respects we agreed as follows: We wouldn't think of coming back here when Pizzicotto is down the block and Peppone's is minutes away. More room for the rest of you...

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