Monday, October 5, 2009

Il Primo: mostly, pretty darned good

I promise I’m alive over here. September was the most insane month ever, and in three days I’m off to Brazil for two weeks with Chris to visit my parents, so you may get a taste of Rio and Sao Paulo on here, but I know there’s been previous little content here for ages and I apologize.

We did have a lovely dinner out with our friends L and B on Saturday night. They’ve just moved into the townhouse they spent a year renovating, in the Little Italy area, so we wanted to stay in their neighbourhood for dinner. I’d never been to Il Primo, though Chris had been and enjoyed it, so off we went.

It’s a small room – cozy, but small, and somewhat overheated that night – but our table at the front, in the window, was lovely and spacious. Our waiter seemed to have a flair for the dramatic but lacked good wine-pouring skills (plenty of drips) and overpronounced all the Italian words, and so L immediately labeled him a theatre major, which he inadvertently confirmed later on. He also had to come back and get us to repeat our orders while he wrote them down. Not the brightest star in the sky.

While the main courses are very reasonably priced here, I found my Caprese salad to be both overpriced and underperforming; we’re at the tail end of field tomato season in Ottawa right now, and we are 25 minutes’ drive from excellent greenhouses in Kanata, meaning there is no reason for an Italian restaurant to use crunchy Roma tomatoes with little flavor in a Caprese salad right now. The mozzarella was ONE small ball of bocconcini, sliced, and not that flavourful; the balsamic was obviously supermarket-quality. Quite disappointing, especially for nine dollars.

Chris finished his Caesar salad, though he didn’t rave about it, which in itself is significant. It looked small for the price ($8) but came with grilled bread and a fresh wedge of lemon. L and B shared the calamari and were a tiny bit confused when it arrived in grilled tubes, rather than fried rings. I tried it, though, and it was fork-tender if a bit overly-smoky from the grill.

Mains fared far, far better than apps. After much discussion and hemming and hawing, B and I decided to swap our mains halfway through because we were dithering about the same two dishes. My spinach linguine with seafood in tomato cream sauce was incredible – not too saucy, punchy with garlic, and cooked to a perfect al dente bite. Two beautifully coked sea scallops, three good-sized shrimp and some chunks of tasty salmon topped the dish. I was very, very sad to pass this across the table, but relinquish it I did, and in return ate half of the gnocchi piedmontese, with sliced Italian sausage in a chunky tomato and sweet red pepper sauce. It was tasty, but I found the sausage a bit grainy and the gnocchi not as flavourful as some I’ve had. It needed a bit of perking up somehow.

Chris went with his usual, veal parmigiano, which came with that same spinach linguini tossed in alfredo sauce. He polished off every bite and declared it delicious. L’s farfalle with almond and lemon pesto, topped with goat cheese and roasted red peppers, seemed a success as well (she’d had it before and enjoyed it). I should mention that the portion sizes were very good – much more restrained than in many Italian restaurants, but not skimpy, either.

The four of us shared a bottle of Cotes du Rhone ($41), which was served a touch too warm for my liking but went well with all the food. For dessert, each couple shared the chocolate indulgence of the day, which that night was a chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. It was excellent, light and creamy, without the doorstop quality of some cheesecakes, filled with fresh raspberry puree and bittersweet chocolate on a crumb crust that wasn’t too sweet. One quibble: our piece was quite obviously larger than L and B’s.

The company was excellent and we had a very good time, so good in fact that it was really only in hindsight that some of the shortcomings became apparent to me. However, I would definitely return to Il Primo and have that seafood linguini again (though not a salad). It’s a nice casual, but not too casual place with a comfortable vibe.

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