The place was full when we got there. Folks were waiting for tables, but we had reservations. So while the Prairie Rockets (guitar, mandolin, banjo) were tuning up, we were quickly seated at one of the nice tables under the windows.
We started with bread, good bread, warm bread. Herbed with rosemary. I tried a schmear of butter on my first bite but not tasting anything buttery, I moved on to the olive oil, which was completely tasteless. A taste-free zone. One expects good fresh virgin olive oil to have flavor, freshness, character. This was the opposite of that. It might as well have been canola oil. Add a star for the bread, take it away for the accompaniments.
Their soup o' the evening was a tomato soup seasoned with gorgonzola. If I could make a tomato soup that good, I'd be pretty proud. One star.
My reader will know that I have previously noted here that the kitchen knows how to coax a good Caprese salad even out of winter tomatoes, and their salad-fu remained strong that night. Another star.
But the eggplant piccata entrée was ... just terrible.
Anyone who does much cooking with eggplant know that it's an oil sponge, and that care must be taken when sautéing eggplant so it does not become saturated with oil.
Care was not taken.
Picture an O-cello kitchen sponge soaked in canola oil, then dipped and sautéed in something only hinting at lemons and herbs.
It was dreadful. Take away another star.
With the eggplant came a side of pasta, linguine noodles perhaps? They may have been seasoned with something but since they also were under-seasoned it's unclear just what the intention was.
And another star falls from the firmament.
When Mrs Elliott told the hostess that she had found the eggplant tasteless and oily, the hostess became defensive, saying that picatta is meant to be mild.
But the issue wasn't mildness, it was the massive amount of oil saturating the flesh of the eggplant.
How they handled the situation loses them a globular cluster of stars.
We both had heartburn that night. I hit the Tums bottle pretty hard before going to bed. Mrs Elliott said this morning that she could of used one or two in the middle of the night, too.
This is a damn pity. It would be nice if downtown Bend boasted a good Italian restaurant. Downtown Carlsbad, where we hail from, had at least four Italian restaurants. While none of them had Giuseppe's intimate ambiance, they could any one of them kick Giuseppe's butt in the cooking department. Hell, even Carlsbad's eight or more Mexican and solitary Chinese restaurants could cook a better eggplant picatta than Giuseppe.
Not far from our house is Trattoria Sbandati. We've not eaten there yet, but if it is as good as I've heard then it will become our default place for Eye-tie food.
What else is there? The Olive Garden? Dear God. No . . . no, not that!
"Welcome to Buca de Fagghecini for the authentico experience Italiano. My name is Roma. Can I start you out with some lotsa pasta macaroni minis?"In Giuseppe's dining room hangs Aldo Luongo's painting, "Perfecto".
The food, alas, was far from perfect.