Wednesday, July 30, 2014

DOING DISHES: Tesoro Italian Restaurant - The Chicken Parm Adventure, Agin'

The preacher said to the congregation "Do the best you can". REALLY, isn't that the problem? Isn't it OK just to be OK at some things?

Yeah, yeah, I get what he was saying - give it some effort and don't be discouraged and you will be rewarded. But we make ourselves nuts trying to get A's in school, working 80 hours a week to get ahead, pushing ourselves to run further/faster/better.

After about 20 years of thinking about it (no one said superheroes were supposed to be smart), I have come to believe that if all that effort is all about you, then give yourself a break. Who cares if your house isn't the neatest because you prefer to spend your time playing fetch with the pooch instead? So what if you suck at some things? If you are a Type A a gin and tonic may also prove very useful. You know - remember to stop and eat the roses, or something like that.

But, if you are a superhero, you really DO need to do the best you can. I know that the problem with the world is everybody else, but if what you do is in the service of others, then NO, it's definitely NOT okay to be just OK. And that includes restaurants, especially if they are striving to be a fine dining establishment.

Puppy Sweet Cheeks treated me to a birthday dinner on Monday night at Tesoro Italian Restaurant, tucked away in the corner of the 20 Western Mall in Guilderland. There is a patio area to the left as you enter that didn't seem very appealing - sort of cramped and dark, and the tables weren't dressed - but that's for another blog series, I think. Anyway, we headed in, looked over the specials listed on the chalkboard, admired the simple elegance and gently lit decor, and were seated right away in the main dining room. It was early (before 6:00 p.m.) and there were just a few other tables already enjoying a meal. Ice water quickly appeared and we took our time looking things over and just generally talking a lot. We finally each ordered a glass of Pinot Noir - one from Bolla ($8.00), and another from Mark West ($8.25). They were very similar and pretty good. Overall I would describe the wine list as a selection of mostly inexpensive wines that are good value - Cavit, Simi, Woodbridge, Ruffino, Ravenwood, BV, etc. - if you buy them at a liquor store, since here we were looking at about a 200% markup by the glass. Not a terribly thoughtful selection but OK. Just OK.

The menu is lengthy with 15 or more Antipasti dishes, soups, vegetable side dishes, pasta dishes, as well as Secondi Piatti that are served with a side salad, bread and butter, and a side of pasta or Italian potatoes. We were encouraged to see that there were gluten free options available, as well as wheat and fresh pasta. A symbol for "vegetarian" was a bit odd, since we could only find it next to one selection, so I wondered why they would bother.  In addition, there is a July Special: $22.95 for a choice of 3 appetizers (Caprese salad, fried mozzerella, or Fettucini Alfredo), an entrée (Pollo Francais, Pesce al Forno, Bocconidi Bitello [veal and peppers], or Chicken Parm), and a choice of Dolce - chocolate mousse or tiramisu. Puppy ordered the Pollo with the chocolate mousse for dessert. I ordered off the main menu - Pollo alla Parmigiana ($20.75). 

Only once the order was placed were we offered bread at the table. It was warm, crusty, light, and flavorless - kind of cheap and commercial. It was served with butter and margarine as well as a nice dish of olive oil laced with roasted garlic and parsley that was very good.

Puppy was served her Caprese Salad - small, simple, maybe could have used a bit more basil in there - but we agreed it was tasty; the tomatoes were firm and delicious. The plate was plunked down sideways not in front of Puppy but off to one side. Kind of casual as far as the service goes.

We both got a side salad with our meals. There was a choice of the usual (like creamy peppercorn, ranch, raspberry vinaigrette, blue cheese, Italian, Russian), but only the last three were house made. WHY? Is it so hard to make salad dressing? Why not make three and leave it at that?  I went with the blue and Puppy did Italian. More wine was ordered. The salads were small but enough for us little superheros, but very predictable, with those awful black olives out of a can that taste like, um, can. The dressings were both very tasty. 

The restaurant by this time had 8-10 tables - not bad for a Monday night, mostly an older crowd. It was quiet; there wasn't even any music playing in the background. Our entrées arrived. The Pollo Francais is battered and pan sauteed with garlic and lemon - it was tender and smooth, not very pretty to look at, but better than what she had at Jack's Oyster House the weekend before.  I liked it too and watched Puppy, like a hungry puppy, eat the whole thing. (:

My Parm was a thin cutlet, slightly crispy on the edges, tender (easily cut with the side of my fork), with salty, herby undertones and genuinely flavorful, but drowning in sauce. The sauce was very good but tasted too much to me like canned tomatoes; the thickness was just right. I thought it was almost tart in some ways. 

I had asked about the fresh pasta - gnocchi, ravioli, cavatelli - they aren't made in-house, but that's OK. The up charge was $2.00, but I think it was worth it. I am falling in love with cavatelli. Tender and tasty. Here the sauce tasted very canned tomatoey to me - it was a sauce better suited to the Parm dish. For a change there was actually grated parmesan cheese in one of those little containers on the table, something wanting in my previous parm escapades; fresh grated would be even better. I ate only half of what I ordered and was comfortably full.

We wrapped up - me with a cup of decaf and two spoons for the mousse, which was light and tasty. 

OK so we talked a lot and the waitstaff seemed busy (there were two in the room by the end of our meal with a few more tables than earlier), but the service after our main dishes were delivered seemed slow, with no coffee refills offered. The leftovers were bagged up and when they were brought back to us I asked if I could have the bread, and the waitress said I could take it if I wanted it, but didn't offer to package it for me. If you've read this blog in the past you know I don't like to over-order and I don't like waste, either. The bread should have been offered, in my opinion, and properly packaged to go. 

So dinner was pretty good, but not great, and I guess I expected more knowing the chef had come up the ranks in several good restaurants, including Lombardo's in downtown Albany (a place I have eaten at more than a few times and been underwhelmed by). It could have been better - better bread, nicer salads, home made dressings, real freshly grated cheese, a more thoughtful wine selection. And since dinner was not exactly cheap (although not pricey, either), I think these are improvements well worth making. It was a lovely evening out - very relaxing - and nice in many respects to dine out not so far from home, so I will probably return, but maybe later rather than sooner. 

Dinner for two, plus five drinks since Puppy was buying, was $96.06 plus tip.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Also, plastic plants. I checked.

1 comment:

mackyton said...

This food looks very delicious. I really want to try this. I wish I could visit this place. I have visited so many local Boston restaurants in which these kinds of yummy dishes have been served. My personal favorite is Italian pasta.