Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Disappointing Italian

I know I’ve been very quiet these days. There’s been a lot going on at TDL HQ, so please forgive the long silence and rest assured there are new and tasty dishes on the way. I did make something yummy last night, but not only was it compiled partially of (gasp) pre-made ingredients, it was so good and we were so hungry that we never took photos of it. I did have the leftovers for lunch today but didn’t photograph those either. Bad blogger, no cookie for me. So here, to tide you over, is a brief review of Friday night’s dinner out with our friend L and her new boyfriend B.

L had asked me to choose a restaurant, and I wanted to try out the new, much-hyped DiVino wine bar on Preston Street (for those non-Ottawan readers, Preston is Ottawa’s Italian district) but we were thwarted by the one big group taking up all the table space in this tiny place. They won’t take reservations for groups of fewer than six, but they apparently have no problem rendering walk-ins completely inaccessible for an entire evening. Ah well. Won’t be making that mistake again.

By this time, however, we were all quite hungry, so we walked down the street and B suggested trying to get a table at Trattoria Caffe Italia, a venerable institution on Preston that does Italian classics. It was the site of my sister’s rehearsal dinner last fall and I remember having a great meal, so I readily agreed, and luckily for us there was virtually no wait for a table.

Sadly, the meal disappointed, at least for L and I. We all shared a plate of calamari (traditionally fried and served with seafood sauce – tasty, but the pieces were small and the batter was a little greasy) and an antipasto plate (meager, for the price, I thought) and then moved onto mains. L had the lasagna al forno (“in the oven”, which, really, you don’t say?) which arrived as a big messy pile of cheese, pasta and meat sauce on a plate. Despite its appearance, it might have been tasty, but L was underwhelmed.

I felt much the same about my veal Marsala – the meat was beautifully tender, but over-floured and insufficiently sautéed, so the slices felt gummy on the tongue. The sauce was flat-tasting, with nothing to enliven the taste of the wine, and some of the mushrooms were nearly raw. Points to the side salad, though, which was bouncy and crisp (and I was glad to have that option, rather than pasta or rice).

The boys were far more pleased with their choices – Chris loved his veal parmesan with spaghetti Bolognese on the side, and B seemed appreciative of his pesto-sauced linguini with grilled jumbo shrimp. We all shared a very nice bottle of affordable Valpolicella ripasso, and had fun goggling at the prices of the high-end wines. The restaurant does have a very impressive wine list, but it would be more impressive if more of the classic dishes lived up to expectations. It’s not like L and I ordered bizarre or complicated entrees – if an Italian joint can’t do a good lasagna and a good veal Marsala, there are issues in the kitchen.

Service was sparse and hurried, but friendly. We declined coffee and dessert. I don’t think I’ll be going back for a while – there are so many other Italian restaurants on that strip, and I’m sure some of them can do better with my favourite veal dish.

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