7/3/05 Cellar Bistro
One time I went to a party, years ago, in Baton Rouge, LA. My brother, in his first year at LSU, was there with his friends. I was there with all the lowlifes I called (and continue to call) friends. The party was at this random guy's parents' condo. I don't know how we got invited, since I knew neither the host nor any of the host's friends. Crazy old Mr. D got my brother and my brother's friend with the fucked up ear high in the host's parents' bedroom. They smoked pot out of a coke can (classy!!!!) and Mr. D, the clinically insane art major, took to calling the kid with the fucked up ear Vincent van Gogh. The fucked up ear kid didn't get the insult. Pity, because that was probably the cleverest putdown that guy would ever hear about his cauliflower ear. “Hey, nice ear asshole,” or “Your ear is ugly,dude,” is probably the extent of the levity he was used to, since he was, after all, from Houma. So he should have thanked crazy Mr. D for the sublime comparison to that tortured, earless, prostitute soliciting bastard genius from the Netherlands.
Anyway, later that night a fight broke out after one frat boy called another frat boy's grandmother a dago. Now, my grandmother is a dago, and I wasn't in the least angered enough to resort to fisticuffs, but apparently the frat boy's opponent was, because they started tussling drunkenly in the living room, upsetting a framed Anne Geddes print and causing a general ruckus. Luckily, the glass in the Anne Geddes shattered when it fell off the wall. I say it was lucky because Lt. Dan's dog had a piece of stringy shit hanging out of his asshole, and the good Lieutenant used the Anne Geddes print to remove the offending shit string. “What do you feed that bastard?” I slurred drunkenly at Lt. Dan, in reference to his dog, “Towels?” Clever, eh? Yeah, well after a case of Shiner Bock you try to sound like the fucking Algonquin Round Table, shithead. Do I need to make a joke about the appropriateness of using an Anne Geddes to wipe a dog's ass? I'll let you fill in the blanks on your own. It's kinda hard to miss at this point anyway, isn't it?
What does any of this have to do with the Cellar Bistro? Fuck if I know, so I'm going to weakly segue into the review by talking about dagos. Like I said, my grandmother is a dago, which makes me ¼ dago. So I'm at least ¼ qualified to talk about dago food, which is to say, any kind of pasta covered in red sauce. The Cellar Bistro is dago food par excellence. Simple, no nonsense, generic Italian food. Eye-talian, as Mr. E, my no- nonsense pal from Cumberland Gap, TN, used to say. Yeah, it's plain, but sometimes less is more, as I've said many times, and besides, it's cheap.
I took Mlle. X to the Cellar Bistro because we'd heard it was awesome. Well the short answer is that is IS awesome. There exists a triple point in restaurant quality. Were any of you bastards aware of the culinary triple point? I bet you weren't. It's the nexus at which quality of food, quality of service, and price intersect. If you go too far in any direction, either the quality of food goes down, or the quality of service goes down, or the price goes up. The Cellar Bistro is one of those rare establishments that straddles the triple point (fuck you, Beavis, I know “straddling the triple point,” sounds like the title of a gay porno, but I'm trying to make a point here, 'kay?).
We started with the gorgonzola dolci ($5.95), which is a plate of sliced gorgonzola, drizzled in a balsamic vinegar reduction, and served with toasted bread and a small ramekin of roasted garlic. Normally I hate when stuff is drizzled with other stuff, but I'll make an exception this time. The bread was a sourdough. Normally toasted sourdough is as impenetrable as kevlar, and grates the flesh off of the roof of your mouth when you bite into it. In this case it was acceptable because a sturdy substrate was needed on which to spread the gorgonzola, which was served at less than room temperature and so was a little chilly- were the bread not toasted we'd have destroyed it trying to smear the stiff cheese all over it. Also included was a ramekin of pureed roasted garlic. My only complaint is that I wish they'd use a more tangy balsamic to offset the sweetness of the gorgonzola and garlic. But I guess that's why they call it dolci. Verdict: fucking delicious!
Next we tried the fried mozzarella. Let me tell you about the time my dad tried to make fried mozzarella. When I was a kid we had this big party at my house. My mom took out the good silverware (as opposed to the usual set, that was mostly stolen from Denny's). The white zinfandel was flowing like, um, shitty wine. My dad manned the Fry Daddy. To say he dropped the ball is to put it kindly. Half of the sticks were undercooked, so that the breaded exterior was barely toasted and the cheese inside was cold. The other half were cooked too well. You'd bite into the breading and find it fucking hollow, an empty breaded husk, as if it had been victimized by some kind of spider that eats cheese. The cheese inside had either vaporized or leaked out through a hole in the breading into the hot grease in the Fry Daddy, which caused the oil to froth and bubble, the way milk bubbles when you blow into it with a straw.
The fried mozzarella at the Cellar Bistro wasn't quite as bad as my father's sophomoric attempt, but it was close. At $6.95, this was about $5.95 too expensive. It was just lame, breaded, fried, mozzarella sticks. The cheese was rubbery, and overall the mozzarella tasted like it came pre- breaded and frozen from Costco. Boring. Plus they served it barely warm, so the cheese wasn't melted, just like 50% of the ones my dad tried to cook.
The antipasta plate ($8.95) was perfectly serviceable. It was served with provolone cheese, olives, pepperonici peppers, sopressetta, salami, and my perennial second-favorite cured meat, coppocola. Enough said. Except that the olives were the shitty pitted black olives that look like garden slugs and taste like a tin can.
On to the entrees. Verdict: good enough. I had the veal marsala. The veal was too thick for this dish, and chewy. I'm guessing it was overcooked, and the marsala sauce was too sweet. When I cook this dish I use dry marsala. These fuckers obviously used sweet. Bizarrely, they served it with a side of fettucini alfredo. Overkill, anyone? If you were Paul Prudhomme , that morbidly obese, Dom Deluise looking fuck, you might think it's a good idea, but I don't. On its own the alfredo was good, but you can't pair a pasta that heavy with an entree as heavy as veal marsala. I'd have substituted angel hair with olive oil and lemon juice. But that's just crazy old me. Still, at $14.95 the price wasn't that bad.
Mlle. X had the linguine puttanesca ($11.95). This dish is one of my favorites, if only because it appeals to my juvenile sense of humor: in case you didn't know, this dish literally translated means “whore's linguine.” This is supposed to be a light, not too filling dish. The flavors of anchovies, garlic, roma tomatoes, capers, and olives should all be discernible and separate, not in competition with each other, but all working together to make the prostitute eating it feel satisfied, but not full so that she could go back to whoring after lunch without feeling too bloated. After all, I know I wouldn't want a 250 pound mafioso on top of me on a full stomach. Ultimately, it was another mild disappointment. All the bases were covered, but they just couldn't pull it off. The flavors were muddy, and the pasta came drenched in marinara sauce, so that tomato paste dominated. Blah. If I were a hooker who ate this puttanesca, I'd give up streetwalking and become a real estate agent. Or an Italian Member of Parliament.
We finished with sorbet. In the true Italian style they served the sorbets in the shell of the fruit from which the sorbet was made: coconut for Mlle. X, lemon for me. Unfortunately, they were frozen to absolute zero and so were impenetrable by spoon for about 30 minutes. To pass the time we finished the bottle of sturdy, passable chianti ($22) and had an espresso. Finally we were able to (sort of) dig in to the sorbets, but they were served, oddly enough, in martini glasses, so it was fucking unwieldy to eat, because you had to constantly worry about tipping over the glass while you wrestled with the ultra frozen ice age sorbet. Though they were obviously frozen too hard, they tasted fresh, and representative of their native fruit, so it wasn't all bad.
With all these misfires, why do I, harsh master of all things culinary, give the Cellar Bistro a passing grade? It's my ¼ dago talking. The place fucking rules. According to Mlle. X there's a velvet painting of Sinatra in the women's bathroom (no, no, you got me, I can't lie. I confess. It was I who saw the velvet painting of Frank Sinatra. I like to sneak into women's bathrooms in restaurants, and, um, in every other kind of building too). The Chairman's velvet men's room counterpart is Sophia Loren, predictably enough. The Cellar Bistro's interior is red, and cavernous, with a fake trellis of fake grape vines suspended from the ceiling, Every doorway is arched, like a roman crypt. The wait staff is competent and friendly. Plus, it's cheap. All these factors combine to make the Cellar Bistro a good place to swill cheap chianti, eat some inexpensive (if overly saucy) pasta, and enjoy the company of a fellow dago. If my dago grandmother weren't senile, and if she didn't live 3000 miles away, I'd take her there. If your grandmother's a dago like mine, you should visit the Cellar Bistro with her, post haste, you filthy fuckers.