Posted by: lisetta | March 12, 2010

Salento on Walnut

Maybe it began when we walked in to the almost empty restaurant around 7:20 and the waiter greeted us with a tinge of pretense after I had mistakenly thought the potato pie in the window was a farinata.  Or, maybe it turned south when he tried to sell basa as a “Mediterranean fish”. I countered immediately, reminding him that it was a cheap farmed catfish typically shipped in from southeast Asia (think, Vietnam). He had *no* idea what to say; it’s certain that someone had told him to try and sell it as something ‘authentic’. Or, maybe it was when I ordered the lasagnette with veal and he suggested I get the pappardelle. I told him I loved L’Oca‘s pappardelle and didn’t want to be disappointed, then ordered the orecchiette with anatra (duck) instead. He said it was their signature pasta, so I figured it’d give the place a good shot at pleasing my palate.

Sigh.

We began with the vegetable antipasto, which was displayed in the front window. On the plate that arrived were a few slices of a frittata (super salty), a half ring of fried polenta (semi rancid oil), chopped beets (quasi pickled), suateed mirepoix (more vinegar), eggplant parmigiana (the best thing on the plate), a slice of cooked zucchine topped with melted cheese (flavorless), a spoonful of overcooked rice (flavorless), and eggplant caponata (lots of oil). While nothing on the plate was offensive, its flavors and textured blended into the boring. Lots of oil and lots of salt. I hoped the pasta would be better.

Sigh.

When the HUGE portion of orecchiette (at least 150 grams, about 1/3 a pound) arrived, in a pool of broth with a mound of duck ragu covered in a  slice of cheese, I happened to be talking with a colleague at the table next to us about another coworker (my boss and best friend) who is leaving Penn in a few weeks. Maybe the reminder of my deep personal/professional loss stunted my appetite? When I turned to look at the dish, the first thing I noticed was that the orecchiette arrived in stacks: 6-10 orecchiette stuck into each other. Huh? The cook didn’t stir the pasta, or perhaps it was precooked and left to sit in a stainless steel prep box? The fact that the meat sat on top of the pasta in a mound rather than distributed throughout the dish made me wonder whether they just spooned it on top of the pasta rather than tossing it together in a saute pan. And, just how was it that there was at least a half inch of what looked to be chicken broth at the bottom of the bowl?

Sigh.

It was *so* not worth the energy to eat. The orecchiette were cheap and gummy. The duck was salty, with no nuanced layers of flavors. Only the wine and the conversation with my friend brought any pleasure.  Pazienza.

The waiter, a kind young man from Albania/Macedonia, left the restaurant before we finished our meal. I asked if the owner, an Italian from Gallipoli, in Salento, where I visited this winter, was in. He was not. Too bad. I’d have liked to talk with him about our experience. Instead, I’m here writing on my blog as if it matters.

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Responses

  1. wow… sure glad I didn’t go!

  2. Darn, I hate having to learn about a bad restaurant by EATING there and then having to pay for the bad meal.

  3. Thankfully, the place was pretty cheap. We got out of there with a $40 check for two. I didn’t mind so much in the end. Felt much more “victimized” when we paid $90 for two at Amis, whose food included better ingredients but was equally disappointing.

  4. ouch, I feel for Davide and Kathryn, also of L’Angolo and co-parents at Marco Polo italian school (back when Emma used to go…), but maybe they need to hear this – we had dinner there a year ago and they served a spectacular fish and perfect tiramisu. So, I just had lunch there on sunday (long story – a private lunch, so to speak) and some of the dishes you mentioned were good. Maybe a bad night?

  5. Chicco! So glad to hear you know the owners, and that we likely hit a bad night!! I could *not* believe that anyone with an Italian culinary heritage actually owned the place. That’s why I asked if the owner was there….wonder who was running the kitchen, and why they got such simple dishes so wrong?

  6. Sorry to ‘insult’ your friends, though!!! If you do mention it to them, let them know that I’m an outlier Italophile foodie with high standards. I’m sure most American audiences would think the meal was just fine.


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