Friday, February 11th
I was in the mood for some really great Italian food. I wish I could report that it was great. I even wish I could say it was good. I can say that the Cono Sur Pinot Noir was good, and the unnamed cabernet was enjoyable enough, but let me start at the beginnning...
I was joined by friends, so once again, the whole "Party of One" thing is a big fat lie. But, I am very happy that I had witnesses to this epic culinary tragedy. It would have been far too depressing to have gone through alone.
We came two by two...Our reservations were for 7:30 but we were a few minutes late. I was afraid that Ristorante Renato wouldn't hold our reservations, but when we arrived, I was pleased to find that our friends had secured the table. We settled in at a very small, crowded booth, enjoyed some wine and conversation, we relaxed and I was looking forward to dinner. We were served a basket of bread and B was on it like he'd forgotten to eat all day long. Joy and bliss...there was real butter. That's nearly the only prop I'll give this place. The waiter came and I realized that I apparently have an addiction to calimari, so I ordered that. It was fresh and Renato's clearly breaded it there, but served it in thick rings. This is purely personal opinion, but I much prefer thinner, crispy calimari rings, as they seem to be more tender and less chewy than thicker pieces. Unlike La Petite Auberge, Renatos served the spidery tentacles. Sadly, they looked nice and crispy, but reminded me of deep fried baby tarantulas... so I just couldn't bring myself to eat them. The side of marinara sauce was unmemorable, and not flavorful enough to even add any taste to the calimari.
Our salads arrived a short time later. Now, when I say salads, what I MEAN to say is that we were served a few pieces of lettuce, a slice of tomato and some salad dressing. It wasn't a salad so much as a burger topping. No onion, no cucumber, no shredded carrots... not even a crouton. Can you toss me a crouton? B just ate all the bread. Work with me, people.
Dear Renatos: Lettuce and tomato a salad does not make. Work on that, please.
Now, a really good marsala sauce can perform miracles. It can make a bad day better, it can transform a boring piece of chicken or veal into a succulent, delicious, satisfying meal, and if prepared properly, it can even render me speechless for a short period of time. I'm telling you...Miracles. Thing is, marsala sauce isn't that difficult. A little butter, some good Marsala wine, a little cream. Done right, its the stuff dreams are made of. At Renatos? Not so much. The chicken was pounded thin, but the sauce was lacking. It was very sweet, and a little too thick as if it had been prepared and left sitting on a counter for a bit before it was brought to our table. I had a side of string beans, which were all right. Yes, I ate the chicken and whined a little with each bite, but mostly because I know I can do a much better marsala sauce at home. K ordered veal scaloppine. In case some of you aren't familiar with this dish, here's the wikipedia definition: "(a small scallop, i.e. a thinly sliced cut of meat) Scallopine is an Italian dish consisting of thinly sliced meat (most often veal, although chicken may also be used) that is dredged in wheat flour, sautéed, then heated and served with a tomato-, or wine-sauce...." Thinly sliced. Sauteed. Yum. Scaloppine is famous for being tender, thin and light. Well... my dining partner needed a steak knife. On the other side of the table, A ordered the server-recommended special, which was rockfish served with shrimp and scallops in some kind of sauce. We were all tempted by that option, but pretty thankful only one plate of it was delivered. It was a small portion of rockfish, served with two medium shrimp and two scallops. I tried a scallop... it was tender, but very fishy tasting. B ordered a trusty Italian standby: chicken parmesan. Again, it was a small portion, heavily sauced and although I didn't taste the sauce myself, was told it was reminescent of Prego. The presentation of all dishes (aside from the lack-luster salads) was pleasant although the portions were small, and we all agreed that the food was mediocre at best.
Our server was adequate. He was nice enough and seemed very busy, but we weren't in a rush, so it was ok. There was a table next to us that was louder and more obnoxious than we were, too.
Overall, the evening was great because of the company. We laughed, caught up, drank wine and kvetched about my choice of restaurants. Although the creme caramel tempted me a little, we decided to pass on dessert.
Ok, so the bottom line: Should you go? No. I'm sorry. The total bill for our table of four was $145 and some change, which included four entrees, one order of calimari and six or seven glasses of wine. Or eight. I don't recall, really. Maybe it's just me, but when I think of Italian food, I think of fresh, ripe tomatoes, spicy garlic aromas filling the air, thick, fragrant sauces that are alive with flavor, crusty breads, perfect al dente pastas, and the cheese... oooooh the cheese. I'm sorry to say that we didn't get any of that at Ristorante Renato. What we had was bland, average and very disappointing.
That said, this evening was just more proof to me that it's not the little things (like overpriced, less than delicious food) that matter. It's the people you bring to the party that make all the difference. So, at the risk of sounding like a dollar store Valentine's card, on this Valentine's Day, remember to live your life to its fullest, laugh at all the things that don't matter, and love with all you have. To those who suffered through this experience with me, thank you so much for being in my life and joining me for dinner. I love y'all.