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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Benvenutti, He Says Unashamed

I splurge.

And when I splurge, it's not a very big splurge, but it's significant for me. What do I mean by splurge? Well, how about $25 for lunch? Considering that's 5 times the amount I normally pay for lunch, I consider that a big dive into the splurge pool.

Last Friday's splurge pool was L'Osteria del Forno, a cute little Italian place I have read about for years. I went there by myself, without anything to read, because I wanted to concentrate as much as I could on the food and the atmosphere. On my way to the restaurant, I was mentally reciting my limited Italian phrasing, just itching for the chance to use it and thus feel elevated to the status of a Somebody. This is the fantasy I routinely engage in, the one that constantly embarrasses Bruce, my friends, the individual I'm attempting to communicate with…but oddly, never myself. This is the fantasy that I engage in with Mexicans at the Taqueria (Ola! Como esta!), the Palestinians at the corner store (Marhaba! Keef Halak!), hostile Irish nannies (Slan! K'jeema tay tu?), and my Chinese barber (Nay how ma? Doh-jeh!). I like to claim that I am semi-fluent in multiple languages. This, however, is a farcical overstatement.

Going with what I know is embarrassing and wrong, I stand at the entrance of LDF, smile at the waiter, and loudly say "Bonjouro! Un tavola per uno, per favore!". He ushers me in rattling off Italian and the only thing I can understand is "prego". It doesn't take him long to realize that I'm a poseur, then tells me the day's specials in English. Not only is his English as good or better than mine, but his tattoos are also cooler. It's 12 o'clock and the restaurant only has a few people. The music is jazz, although I don't recognize it. Don't worry: it's not Kenny G. The ceilings are high, the room is narrow, and the front facade consists of long, plate glass windows. The walls are a rich hue of yellow (I’m using my memory, so forgive me if I get this wrong) and decorated with little chachkas, multicolored bottles, old keys framed in a shadow box, some type of Italian game tiles, and old posters. It's decorated, but reasonably so. Many of the tables were for couples, so it's probably a big first-date scene.

It doesn't take me long to know what I want. I had heard that the food is seasonal here, so I go right away with the appetizer of baked fennel and carrots covered with parmesan. The second thing I order is the baked polenta with gorgonzola, mostly to see if it was better than my own. With this I had a small glass of red wine; sorry, don't remember, which is too bad because the wine was good.

When the fennel and carrots came out, I was impressed. The dish had just come out of the oven. I have tried in vain to cook fennel and every time it comes out tough and stringy. This fennel, served almost whole, was tender and slightly crisp while retaining a lot of its sweet anise flavor. The large, sliced chunks of carrots, perfectly cooked, added more sweetness which contrasted with the salty flavor of the cheese. This dish rocked. In fact, it was molto bene, something of which I let my waiter know.

The polenta, well let's just say it wasn't bene. Actually it was molto boring. And soggy. And the gorgonzola was sparse. It needed salt, big time. It didn't taste baked, but steamed. It was spongy. And it was very unappealing to look at. I could've done this dish better, and I can't even tell you where Bologna is on a map. This lacked flavor. You know, where is the love? And excuse me, but 8 smackers for corn meal and a little bit of cheese? Eight bucks for grits? I don't think so. I'm sorry Mama, but this isn't worthy of the reputation LDF has.

Also, the wine could've flowed a little more generously, but seeing as I had to be back to work within an hour, it's probably good that it didn't.

The big star of my lunch at LDF were the wonderful, hot, foccacia sticks brought to the table. Oh my! They were delicious and full of flavor! Definite winner there.

In America, there is always the promise that Italian cuisine is special, that it's elevated above the humdrum of ordinary American food. To be honest, I'm patiently still waiting. But at LDF, I had a pleasant meal. I would try it again, especially for the roast pork which my heart and stomach really was telling me to order. And the wait staff was very friendly and attentive, which I'm sure you are saying "so what", but in North Beach/Columbus Avenue, that counts for something. The restaurant was very comfortable, but like every place, you have your winners and your losers, some with more the former than the latter, and vise versa.

(Not embarrassed to say) Ciao!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your whole blog top to bottom. Funny and fantastic writing, I'll check back often!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your whole blog top to bottom. Funny and fantastic writing, I'll check back often!

uh, from molly.


6:01 PM  

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