First off, Trattoria Tre Venezie. I'd been wanting to try the restaurant for ages, but never really got around to it. Finally, and on the recommendation of her father, my friend put an end to all this dithering and called at 6:45PM for 7:30PM reservations. It being a Tuesday night, and one before Christmas Eve, I suppose we were lucky in getting a table.
It is a pleasant room. Dimly lit, but not so dim that you have to squint/wonder if your contact prescription is off. Definitely charming, with the bookcase (in a nice, dark wood) at the back near the kitchen, and lots of framed prints (but not too many) on the walls. You enter at the side. The bar, which is opposite the entrance, separates the dining area into two smaller ones. We were seated near the back almost immediately, and given the menus after a couple of minutes. Warning: I am so not going to even remember the Italian names for all the dishes. I'm not going to even attempt to. There were lots of words on the menu (bringing to mind an article in the LATimes from a couple of weeks ago about wordy menus.) Everything was described, perhaps overly so. On top of the descriptions, there were also explanations of what a certain type of pasta was, a bit of history behind the dish, etc. It was a mite overwhelming. The menu was divided into three parts - antipasto, primi, and secondi. All of the pastas from the primi course could be made into an entree size for an additional $4. There were vegetarian choices, and those dishes with eggs were so marked.
The waiter then came to take drink orders and to tell us about our specials. His delivery brought to mind the chapter in Jeffrey Steingarten's first book about being a waiter - the importance of pushing bottled water and cocktails onto your patrons. I did end up with a glass of white wine (turning down his offer of prosecco or another apéritif) and we got regular table water, instead of the sparkling or still offered.
I ended up starting with the salad with braised (? maybe it was sautéed) cabbage, apples, and chunks of duck in a parmesean cheese crisp cup (forgive me for being so forgetful with technical terms), on a small bed of mixed greens, and then getting the bucatini (like spaghetti, but less straight) with fresh dungeness crab, olive oil, garlic and tomatoes. My friend started with a .. wow, I am not even going to remember.. a salad with spinach and red cabbage? and continued with the risotto of the day ("made to order", according to our waiter), which was watercress with parmesean.
After we ordered, the bread plate came - six thin slices of 3 varieties of bread: plain, olive, and walnut, fanned out onto a fan-shaped plate, served with a small bowl of butter. The walnut one was definitely my favourite. When we had finished the flavoured breads, the plate was taken away and replaced, with the full selection once again.
The meal was wonderfully presented and definitely tasty. My appetizer was very cute, the cabbage, apples and duck in the crisp cup, which I then broke so that I could combine the elements with the bed of mixed greens. The pasta was lovely, nicely al dente, a little marine-y, delicate chunks of crab mixed in with the tomatoes. Nice and light, and not overly oily or garlicky. I did not try my friend's salad, but she said she enjoyed it a lot. I did have a nibble of her risotto, and it was fantastic - the perfect texture, in my opinion, just a mite chewy - and not too creamy.
We were checked on twice during the meal, once during each course. Water was refilled promptly.
I was definitely tempted by the dessert menu, but over the course of the night, the service started to drag. To be fair, it did start to fill up, but still.. ) it was at this point that service just lapsed. We waited 10 minutes, and the waiter didn't come to take our order - and we had places to go, people to see! - so unfortunately, we had to pass on dessert. However, I was definitely tempted by the Venetian cooked cream (like panna cotta, I assumed?) and my friend would have ordered the mango sorbet. Also interesting were the list of dessert drinks - ratafià and the like made according to a "secret family recipe". I last had a similar dessert liquour at Taranta, in the South End in Boston in July, and was fascinated by it, and hadn't seen its like on a menu since (although to be fair, I hadn't eaten at many Italian restaurants between then and now). I very much wanted the hazelnut one - although there were other fascinating flavours, which I unfortunately can't remember because once I see nocciolà on a menu, I'm a goner, but time was short. (Can you buy these liquours? Where?)
Surprisingly, however, the check came Very Quickly. (I only say surprisingly because one second the waiter was taking away the menus, the next second our check was on the table.)
The restaurant was less than half-occupied when we entered, but was filled when we left. It started to get noiser, but not to an unbearable level.
We left sated, but not stuffed. (I hate it when I get to the stuffed stage.) It is a charming restaurant, and I would definitely go back if I had a craving for good, but not heavy sink-in-your-stomach Italian. A date place, yes. A get-together place, also a yes. I can't think of any reason not to go here, as a matter of fact, unless you 1) are on a budget (I think it came to approximately $50/head, with two appetizers, two entrees and one glass of wine) or 2) don't like the person you're dining with and don't want to impress them (in which case, you should come here anyway - at least you'll enjoy the food!)
And onto the next!
We were to meet a mutual friend and her fiancé at Bodega Wine Bar, at the Paseo. My friend and I arrived early, so we went on ahead and secured a table.
It is very much a scene (Exhibit A: my friend and I had been there for a scant 5 minutes, scanning the bar for seating, when a very nice and vaguely sketchy gentleman offered to let us join his party's table. We demurred, saying we were meeting people. That, and hello! At least let me get a drink before you attempt to pick me up.) 20s-early 30s, I'd say. There is a main room, which during warmer months opens to patio seating, and two lounge-y type areas, one futher in just off this main room, one behind the bar. We made the mistake choosing the one behind the bar (since that was the only available seating.) I say mistake because it took *forever to get anything.
There are about 10-15 selections of red and white wine apiece, with a glass costing $7, a carafe (about 2 2/3 glasses) for $20, and a bottle for $30. A small selection, but decent. Flavour notes are on the menu, in case you're not sure what the wine is. Selection spans the globe. There is also a small bar menu - your basic chichi wine bar eats, and a selection of beers and sakes. On top of this, there are apparently different promotions on different nights - it being a Tuesday, it was "flight night", with flights of 3 different types of wine (categorised as "full-bodied reds" or "French whites") for $15. (Monday is DJ night.) We ended up with a carafe of red (a syrah, I think) and one of white (a French vigonier (sp?)), and a tiramisu for the table.
Wines are served in rocks glasses, which I'm not a big fan of, but at least they're harder to knock over. The tiramisu was decent. But service, I reiterate, was miserable. We ended up closing our tab at the bar, because it had been at least 20 minutes since the waitress had checked on us (let alone any of the tables in that area). Even at the bar, my friends requested glasses of water but didn't get anything. Perhaps if we had been in the main two rooms (ie, not behind the bar), matters might have been different. The only benefit to being seated in the back is that it's quieter, and thus potentially more romantic.
Decor is wannabe ultra modern, a little cheap-looking, in my eyes. Tables felt like they had been newly lacquered. Very minimalistic, and not terribly attractive (lots of flat red), although the sofas were comfy.
We got there at 9:30, and the place was maybe 50% full. When we left at 11, it was about 85-90% full, and definitely buzzing. More fun with a group of friends, perhaps, than a date. It is definitely a nice alternative, service aside, to all the pubs of Old Town.