Wednesday, April 29, 2009


1940 Westlake Ave

I heard a rumor that the happy hour at Barolo was the single most awesome item in the universe. Better than the Cotton Candy Blowjob Mobile. Better than the robot assassin that’s fueled by burning Thomas Kinkade paintings (the robot assassin’s targets are the people who OWN the Kinkade paintings, naturally). Better than love, life, and all of human history itself.


Obviously, the rumors were wild exaggerations since the only thing in the universe that even APPROACHES the awesomeness of the aforementioned awesome items is the time I appeared onstage with Iron Maiden. I didn’t want to go to Barolo. After all, I’m currently suffering from High End Italian Food Fatigue (HEIFF), and it seems that there’s no end in sight. Yet I had to prove to myself that there was at least some legitimate basis for the Barolo happy hour love fest so off I went.

Once again, the marketplace disagrees with my assessment of things because Barolo was PACKED: packed like a rat, or packed the way my bags will be if Sarah Palin becomes president in 2012. There wasn’t room at the bar so the maitre d’, an Ed Begley Jr. looking motherfucker, sat us at a couple of these nerdy mini couches. The couches, which looked like they’d be pretty comfortable for midgets to fuck on, were about 2 feet wide and faced one another with a low coffee table between. I felt like a second class dickwad here because we couldn’t just sit at a human- sized table, nor at the bar, but instead were relegated to the fucking kids’ table.

The other thing I’m going to bitch about re: Barolo is the extremely attractive staff. Everyone looked like a reject from a Days of Our Lives casting call, or one of those reality shows where sexy twentysomethings compete for the affections of some attention- starved douche. I start to get uncomfortable when even the MALE waiters give me a semi, but as long as the waiters stay on their side of the fence, things are usually cool. It’s only when they try shit like sitting down at the table with us, or writing their name upside down on the table, or asking me if I like their nipple rings, that the social contract breaks, resulting in me dining- and- dashing. Needless to say, I’m not welcome at Red Robin anymore.

Everything on Barolo’s bar menu is half price during their happy hour, which is from 3-6:30. The prices I’m listing here are the prices we paid DURING HAPPY HOUR. So the regular prices are twice what I’ve written. With that in mind, we started with the grilled Caesar salad ($4). A half of a romaine lettuce head was served with a ribbon of dressing, big fluffy crunchy croutons, large flakes of parmasean cheese, and a lemon wedge. The romaine head was appealingly charred in places and was obviously grilled, but had no smoke flavor so I doubt it was grilled over a fire. The croutons were light and crumbly and very good, and not at all like the angular gum- shredding nuggets that shitty croutons can sometimes be. The dressing was pretty bland pussy dressing, with very little garlic and no anchovy flavor. The parmasean was obviously NOT reggiano. All in all it was a serviceable Caesar salad.

We continued with a pair of carpaccios: veal ($6.50) and ahi tuna ($6). The veal featured a thin layer of veal on the plate, topped with a loose pile of arugula, dotted with capers, and anointed with white truffle oil and some kind of vinaigrette. This was pretty good. The ahi tuna carpaccio wasn’t as tasty. The ahi was smeared across the bottom of the plate, topped with finely diced celery, capers, and olive oil. It had a light, fresh taste, but I don’t get the appeal of carpaccio. Who decided that squishing something makes it taste better? It works okay for beef, but that’s only because beef holds together. Tuna doesn’t fare as well in carpaccio form. I don’t mind raw tuna, but I DO get aggravated when it’s presented as a limp paste. Does it have to be pounded flat? Couldn’t they just give us a couple whole chunks? I could make the remark the only kind of tuna that I like to pound flat is your mom’s, but I’m not doing “your mom” jokes anymore, so let’s just say instead that Arby’s really sucks.

The prosciutto plate ($6.50) had lots of prosciutto on it, but not enough to justify the price if it hadn’t been happy hour. It tasted like pretty standard prosciutto di parma, but the best thing about this dish was the plate itself: a rustic wooden paddle! You know how much I hate all things rustic, but that rule doesn’t apply to things that I could use to spank your mom, if in fact I was in the business of spanking your mom, which of course I no longer am. You could, however, use this paddle to bludgeon the CEO of Arby’s, until he is so brain damaged that he orders his restaurants to start making delicious food instead of the limp iridescent meat sheets, slick with rat- felching juice, they currently prepare.

Barolo is rather lame. It’s not bad, but certainly not breathtakingly original. That’s not always a bad thing, since sometimes you just want to taste something familiar. Besides, the happy hour prices are pretty cheap. But the NON happy hour prices are TOO EXPENSIVE. Is it because they have to pay Hollywood wages to all the soap opera actors who work there? Dude, I don’t fucking know.

Rating: 5 poorly written restaurant reviews out of 10

PS Congratulations to my peeps at Urban Spoon on their recent acquisition by Citysearch.

Barolo Ristorante (Metropolitan Tower) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Knee High

1356 Olive Way

Knee High is a self- styled “speakeasy.” I thought those went out of style with the Fox- Trot, flagpole sitting, and telling people that they’ve got “moxie.” Yet Knee High is a throwback, an anachronism, just like the Ford Model T or Blockbuster Video (but cooler).

When you go inside there’s a curtain and a dude. The dude checks your ID, which of course gave it away to me that this wasn’t an actual speakeasy, unless of course he was checking to make sure I wasn’t Elliot Ness. The dude told us “Let me see if we have a table available.” He poked his head through the curtain for a second then immediately pulled back. “I think I can arrange something for you,” he said. “Right this way.”

At Knee High “Right this way” means “3 feet from here” because the place is so damn tiny. It’s in the old Il Forno Pizzaria, which was an appropriate business to occupy this space because the building itself is pizza slice- shaped (of course by that logic, car dealerships would only be housed in giant car- shaped buildings, and the Washington Monument would be a dildo shop). It’s a great place for a speakeasy too: dark and secret inside, like Al Capone’s vault, but cozier. I had to laugh at the guy when he said “I think I can arrange something for you,” as if he was pulling some strings and painstakingly setting us up, because half the tables were empty. He seated us next to the bizarre mural of a grown man making out with an infant. It’s totally gross, and this is coming from the guy who loves Damien Hirst. I know there’s a Michael Jackson joke in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to figure it out so until then let’s all agree that Michael Jackson is a terrible child molester who loves sex with children, just like the guy in Knee High’s weird mural.*

The menu is cute and makes all kinds of antiquated 1920’s references to “Dames”, “Revenuers,” and “Suffragettes.” There’s an extensive cocktail menu, but the list of food items is brief. That’s okay with me; after all, you go to a speakeasy to drink and associate with flappers, jazzmen, aviatrices, and negroes, not to eat. But I was hungry after sitting on a hard bleacher for 3 hours watching roller derby girls, so we got some victuals.

The Chicago “style” Dog ($5) was as inappropriate as the quotation marks in its name (Note: I’m reproducing the typography directly from the menu here, lower case “s” and quotation marked “style” and all). A kosher beef frank was topped with relish, cucumber slices, and pickled peppers on a poppy seed bun. The flavor combination seemed unlikely to me, yet it worked. The relish was sweet. The peppers were tangy and spicy. The cucumbers were cool and fresh. The bun was as soft as gauze. The Chicago “style” Dog was really tasty and should be renamed the Chicago “awesome” Dog. It’s also the perfect thing to slow down rapidly approaching drunkenness.

An order of fries was also $5, but they weren’t as good as the “style” Dog. They were thick- cut steak fries. The coating wasn’t very crisp, and the insides were a little mealy. Plus you didn’t get very many of them. I’ve definitely had better fries, but at least they did come with an interesting spiced ketchup.

Roasted cauliflower ($5) also wasn’t that great. I like my roasted veggies with a little char on them, and while the cauliflower florets were a nice deep brown on top, they were mostly just pale and soggy underneath. They were coated with an anchovy butter that had a confident anchovy flavor. Unfortunately the butter wasn’t melted completely in many places, so I kept biting into soft pockets of cool, fishy butter. It seemed like they didn’t cook it all the way through.

Luckily, Knee High made up for the cauliflower with the asparagus Caesar salad ($6). In a cool twist on the traditional Caesar salad, they replaced lettuce with asparagus. I fucking LOVED this. The asparagus was lightly steamed so that it was tender but still a little crisp, and was coated with Caesar dressing. I’ve been to restaurants that serve pussy Caesar dressings with little garlic and no anchovy. These kinds of restaurants are usually catering to people on dates, who don’t want to have to kiss each other smelling like garlic and anchovies (though I call bullshit on that because the smell of garlic on a chick’s breath is TOTALLY HOT). Knee High’s Caesar dressing was nothing like those weak Caesar dressings: it was creamy, subversively perfumed with garlic and heavily muscled with LOTS of anchovy paste. Intense. Very nice, and it just underscores the fact that speakeasies like Knee High aren’t fucking around.

Perhaps best of all, Knee High serves ABSINTHE. While I was disappointed that they didn’t offer bathtub gin and watered down Canadian whisky like speakeasies of old, absinthe was a great choice. I ordered a glass of Lucid. For $9 you get a pretty big shot of it in a highball glass, plus an absinthe spoon, a sugar cube, and a small pitcher of ice water. The waitress offered to ignite the sugar cube for me with a match, but I declined because only philistines and Czechs do that. Lucid is a fine absinthe, though maybe with a rounder, softer, less herbal flavor than some other vintages I’ve tried. Still, it was a delightful postprandial digestif, and the romance and forbidden authenticity of the drink was perfectly suited to the ambiance.

I must at this point apologize to Knee High for making fun of the fact that it was empty when we walked in. We must have beaten the rush because at some point while we were eating, the place completely filled up! Granted, it’s not that difficult to pack the place, but still. In the private room behind us was a group of Algonquin Round Table motherfuckers, dressed to the nines and shooting rapid- fire quips at one another with the precision of Kaiser Bill’s own hunnish snipers. I wish I could say our table was enjoying such witty repartee, but sadly our talk of overly enthusiastic nipple rubs and awkwardly thumped vulvas lacked the same sparkle.

Knee High is fucking awesome. What a great idea. While the food is hit or miss, the drinks are stiff and the ambiance can fucking NOT be beat. Besides, you’re there to drink. It’s a great facsimile of a Depression- Era speakeasy. They’ve got the economic downturn nailed, after all.

Rating: 6 WPA writers out of 10

Knee High on Urbanspoon

*My lawyer sez: “Michael Jackson is an upstanding citizen and is not, in fact, a molester of children or anything else other than good taste.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009


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.”

Cantinetta on Urbanspoon