I waited a few weeks after having dinner at B&B Ristorante at the Venetian to try to gain as much objectivity as possible. My husband and I, along with our favorite chowhound couple, had dinner on 3/15. We were seated promptly for our 8:00 reservations. As per usual, we had done our research so we knew exactly what we wanted to order. We started with some cocktails then ordered a bottle of Marcarini Barolo Brunate.
Things started wonderfully. We got three dishes to start and shared.
Prosciutto: Lovely, perfectly sliced (not too thick or thin), melt-in-your-mouth, none of that funky metallic aftertaste inferior prosciutto can have. Unfortunately the bread that came with the dish was burnt. Not pleasantly charred or smoked. Burnt.
Calamari and Seppi Frittie: Excellent. Encased in a delicate batter that didn't overwhelm the tender calamari or the cauliflower florets. Perfectly delicious. The best I've ever had. Everyone else agreed.
Goose Liver Ravioli with balsamic vinegar and brown butter: The decadently rich stuffing balanced beautifully by the balsamic and brown butter sauce. A little salty, but the dish had ten small raviolis at the most, so it didn't bother me too much as we all had a few bites.
Then it went downhill.
Spaghettini with Chives, Garlic and Lobster: I took one bite and choked on the amount of salt that flooded my mouth. My husband, the undisputed salt king (I'm thinking of gifting him a salt lick for our next anniversary), pshawed my reaction, convinced I was being finicky and overreacting, and took a bite. He, too, suffered the wrath of the saltiest dish every created. It was salt, boiled in salt, tossed with salt and served with shavings of salt on top. My mouth still puckers at the memory.
Linguini with Clams, Pancetta and Hot Chiles: Our dining companion took a bite and immediately reached for her glass of water, her eyes tearing up. She wordlessly handed me her fork. I took a bite and abruptly changed my mind. My spaghettini was low-sodium compared to this paean to the ocean. Think seawater poured into a bucket, left out in the sun to evaporate, then the remaining two tablespoons of liquid salt sludge at the bottom mixed up with some pasta. Yeah.
Grilled Pork Chop: Oversalted. Yes, yes, yes, brining meat keeps it juicy and tender and flavorful. Soaking it too long, however, doesn't do it any favors. Still, they were edible at least while the pastas above were not.
We returned the pasta to the kitchen and asked them to please sample the dishes. Our server came out and explained that Mario's pastas tend to be very bold and flavorful and spicy. All things that I'm FINE with. Give me bold. Give me flavorful. Give me spicy. Just don't serve me a plate of salt and tell me that's how Batali likes to cook. It's insulting. Not just to my tastebuds, but also to his culinary talents.
Our server suggested getting another pasta dish that used fresh pasta, rather than the dried pasta used in our current dishes as the fresh wouldn't have to cook in the salted water as long. So I chose the Pappardelle Bolognese and my companion chose the Black Spaghetti with Ricci di Mare as they both utilize fresh pasta. And we waited. We had to wait so long, our men finished their entrees (they did share, though!) And still we waited.
Finally, our pastas came out and we pounced on them, wanting to be proven wrong. DANG! Again, too salty. Better than their predecessors. But still too salty. We were dumbfounded. And disappointed. And sad. We had so looked forward to this meal as we had enjoyed Chef Mario's other ventures. We looked around the restaurant and everyone else seemed totally fine, happily drinking and dining. We wondered if we had eaten anything earlier in the day that might have affected our tastebuds. Nothing out of the ordinary. We asked our server to please return our second pastas to the kitchen with the same message.
The manager came over and spoke to us. And while she didn't disagree with our assessment of the pastas, per se, she condescendingly intimated that it was our perception of the dish rather than...than what? Reality? All in all, it was a very strange exchange. She listened to our lament and admitted that some other diners found the pasta dishes overseasoned and bold. No, we countered, the dishes were not "overseasoned" so much as oversalted to the point of being inedible. She made the requisite sympathetic noises/responses then in this awfully patronizing tone, reiterated that Mario's flavors are very bold and challenging. She said that she herself had gone in the kitchen and tasted our pastas and they were as they should be. Nay, she haughtily added, they were perfectly made according to Mario's recipes. That absolutely blew our minds. So apparently, they weren't having an off night. Nor was the chef assigned to the pasta station suffering from an awful head cold. No, we didn't like the pastas because we were a bunch of ignorant rubes who didn't have the wherewithal to recognize flavors of such sophistication.
While B&B did the right thing and left the pastas off our bill, it did little to appease us. For a dinner that began on such a positive note, that promised such delicious possibilities, we felt gutted to leave on such a weird note. We were fully willing to give B&B the benefit of the doubt, chalking up the four pastas to an off night, especially in light of the caliber of our antipasti. But they did their best to convince us that it WASN'T an off night, that the pastas WEREN'T oversalted and that's how the pastas were SUPPOSED to taste. Fine! So be it. If that's the case, then Mario's pastas at B&B Ristorante suck.