3650 Wallingford Ave N
For awhile I was getting High- End Italian Food Fatigue (HEIFF). HEIFF is characterized by a marked reluctance to pay $28 for a bowl of oxtail, aversion to the cloying taste of shitty balsamic vinegar, and an irrational hatred of Tuscany. Though if truth be told, I hated Tuscany BEFORE I got tired of Italian food. I once saw something on PBS where Lidia Bastianich described some part of Italy as being “Italy's other Tuscany.” Really, Lidia? And do you think the people of that other region agree with that assessment? Because I doubt I'd be very popular with the people of South Dakota if I called it “America's other North Dakota.”
So why do we continue to glorify Tuscany? Tuscany sucks. The people who really like Tuscany also really like The Bridges of Madison County and anything made by Glade. Have I ever been there? No, but I've never been inside an elephant's vagina either, and I suspect that that location also sucks, though Tuscany probably has more wheat fields and less smelly mucus. Yeah, sure, the Renaissance started in Florence, but that was 600 years ago. What has Tuscany done for me lately, besides becoming a keyword for the kind of pretentious fucks who care how old their vinegar is?
Needless to say, I approached Cantinetta with caution, since their website claims that they emphasize “Tuscan culinary traditions.” Well fuck it, once more into the breach, I suppose. When we arrived, the place was fucking packed, and they DON'T TAKE RESERVATIONS. Actually they do, but only for parties of 6 or more. Since there aren't 5 other people in the world who can stand my presence, a reservation wasn't an option. Luckily we were able to be seated at the bar.
We started with the grilled dates ($9). Three dates were wrapped in prosciutto and grilled. The prosciutto was crisp and smoky, and crackled when you bit into it, yielding to the chewy and sweet date flesh beneath. The menu claimed that the dates came with “red oak leaves,” which turned out to be oak leaf lettuce and not actual oak leaves. I must admit that this was a relief, since I hadn't eaten REAL oak leaves since the time a 3rd grade bully tackled me on the playground and shoved some in my mouth. Yeah, that was a tough time last week. Luckily the red oak leaf lettuce was supple and buttery, and the whole thing was drizzled in a rich balsamic reduction.
If the grilled date salad was Cantinetta's dark and smoky yin, then the arugula and muscat salad ($7.50) was its light tangy yang, only THIS tangy yang was much tastier than your mom's. We got a big pile of baby arugula, punctuated with green muscat grapes and salty dots of crumbled pecorino cheese. The muscats were pleasantly astringent flavor bombs which countered the sweetness of the vinaigrette that coated everything.
Ozette potatoes ($7.50) were roasted in rosemary butter. The potato skins were crunchy and crusted in kosher salt, but the flesh of these fingerling potatoes was a little mealy. Still, the herbed butter was really intense, and coating something in butter usually solves all problems. Although that having been said, Arby's could coat EVERY ONE OF THEIR MENU ITEMS in 10 gallons of herbed butter and it would still just taste like buttery ass with herbs.
Pappardelle Bolognese ($16) featured soft, wide pasta in a creamy bolognese sauce. The sauce has lots of meat, rich tomato flavor, and was spiked here and there with plenty of black pepper. Lots of parsley lightened up the whole thing. The risotto ($15), with hedgehog mushrooms and slivered onions, was perfectly composed, and as satin smooth as a Brazilian wax. Every grain of rice remained separate without clumping, and the risotto was creamy without being too gloppy. We had leftovers of the risotto, and I discovered that, again like a Brazilian wax, it was better the next day.
Dessert was the chocolate ganache tart ($8.50) which had a crisp chocolate crumb crust, dark chocolate filling, and was topped with a dollop of chocolate mousse. This dessert was pretty faggy. Fortunately, $7 got you three bombolini, which are Italian doughnuts. The pastry was soft, dusted in sugar, obviously fried in scrupulously clean oil, and filled with a mascarpone cream. The mascarpone cream wasn't super sweet, and after Alfredo sauce and my own jizz, is one of the best tasting white liquids in the world.
Cantinetta is an interesting place. While I'm clearly getting tired of Italian food, this place pulls it off with grace and style. It's not too stuck up, and not too expensive. It somehow threads the needle between the pricey but barely restrained Quixotic creative fury of Spinasse and the laid back vibe of a comfortable but unoriginal place like Machiavelli. AND it does all this while not falling into the trap of putting corny Italian crap on the walls, like a bust of the pope or one of Mussolini's eyeballs. If I was some douchebag of Italian heritage, which I am, I'd definitely go back. If ever there was an antidote to HEIFF, Cantinetta is it.
Rating 8 figli di puttana out of 10
PS Arby's jokes are the new “your mom.”