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Poggio revisited (long)

Al@Fairfax | Jan 17, 200502:05 PM

When I recommended Poggio to a query seeking a place to dine in Sausalito, another Hound, LPC,responded with a negative. It is owned by Larry (Il Fornaio) Mindel who wanted an Italian restaurant that would be less corporate and more authentic--my interpretation of the publicity puffs on the place. And the Chef/partner is Chris Fernandez who did a successful stint with Paul Bertolli at Oliveto. Other local publicity emphasized the use of greens and herbs from their own garden. Unterman and Bauer both raved about it and even al@Fairfax had a memorable lunch there. Hey, how could a diner go wrong?

Oh, lots of ways, as it turned out. It is a lovely room and the service was good though not fabulous. But the meal as a whole was really disappointing beyond a couple of high points. To begin with salads: mine was a fennel/citrus/onion with Sicilian olive oil and mint; only there was perhaps a tablespoon of shaved fennel, no trace of mint in bland olive oil and the whole was ice cold. My wife, however scored with a salad of good marinated beets and arugula with ricotta salada and a nicely vinegary vinegrette. The arugula (could it be from their own garden) was wonderfully nutty, not harsh like that I had tasted earlier in the day at the farmer's market. Score one for wife's choice.

Next, she had the chickpea soup with olivio nuovo which turned out to be one of those soups which seems too mild at first spoonful but gets more flavorful with each taste. So much so that after I got a couple of spoonsful to try, she kept the rest for herself, ooing and ahhing over each taste. I had ordered a pasta all'amartriciana. The serving was just right for a primi--not so huge a plateful that I would not be able to finish my main course. The sauce was as expected with the pancetta (aww, not guanciale) browned crisper than I would have preferred and a touch more of pepper flakes than usual but these seemed like legitimate choices by the chef and were not unpleasant. The pasta, however, was not the usual bucatini but ceppo (not familiar to me) which were wider, thicker shorter noodles and the pastiness became unpleasant as I continued eating, so that I finished all the sauce I could scrape up but left some of the pasta. Another wiser choice by my wife.

For entrees, I had the braised veal shoulder a la Milanese with romanesco sauce, and my wife had the lamb chops "scottadino" with cauliflower. Acutally, both came with cauliflower, as it turned out. Based on taste experience, our policy has been to shy away from lamb that does not specify a source, such as Niman or Dal Flora, etc. This would have been wise here, as well. The scottadino meant that the chops were charred on the outside which would have been fine if they had been rare inside. (She was not asked how she wanted them done, they were just beyond medium.) The meat itself was barely lamblike in flavor, a very bland chop that tasted mostly of the char. The veal, unfortunately, was worse. Aside from the soft texture, there was no hint of braising--no enriched flavors; in fact little flavor at all. The Milanese breading had more taste than the meat which was also unpleasantly dry. And the romanesco sauce--well, there was none. It was a dry piece of fried veal on top of some chopped cauliflower. I did not complain nor ask about the whereabouts of the sauce; the putative braised veal was too hopeless and I was too bummed by that time.

We passed on desserts but shared a cheese plate which turned out to be the highlight of the dinner for me. A peorino tuscana, tellegio and gorgonzola combination. Each at proper temperature, perfect ripeness, and a pleasure.

We had begun with a glass of vernaccia (new to me, not being very fluent in Italian whites), which was both dry and earthy. Nice. We drank an ordinary chianti classico riserva with dinner because it was one of the only red wines on the (slightly overpriced) wine list that I could afford that was earlier than 2002. These seven dishes plus two glasses and one bottle of wine came to $147 before tip.

I am now in agreement with LPC: I will probably not return to Poggio. Too bad.


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