A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Mar. 27.


'ino - 21 Bedford St., West Village
'ino antipasti; Chicken, oven-roasted tomato, asiago and rucola panino, a glass of Malvasia Bianca

The last time we went to ‘ino, it was a minor nightmare. Perry and I met at this miniscule panini restaurant at eight on a Friday (admittedly a stupid move since the place won’t take reservations), planning to make the ten o’clock movie a block away at Film Forum. The host kept assuring us a table was coming even as soon as we walked in. To make matters worse, because it was winter, everyone waiting in the miserably packed alcove was wearing thick coats. It was hot and more people kept pushing their way in.

By eight thirty, two spots at the bar opened up and we were first in line. “You can have those,” the host said, “but I’ll have a table in less than five minutes.” Thinking of my problematic back, I decided to wait for the table. Meanwhile, couples that had finished eating a half hour ago were still occupying tables, leisurely talking away. At eight forty-five, a table finally opened up, but the host casually explained that it was for three people so he had to give it to the people behind us. It didn’t matter that they had come in ten minutes ago. But fear not, he promised us another table would open up very soon.

By nine, we gave up, knowing there would be no way we’d have time to have a relaxed dinner and still catch Notre Musique. But more than logistics, we were both sick of being jerked around by the insensitive host and his unrealistic promises. I told Perry that ‘ino would be better at lunch when there’d be less of a crowd, but he was already vowing not to return. If it hadn’t been for my very positive experience at ‘Inoteca, I would’ve made the same vow.

Four months later, in the mood for panini and reluctant to travel out to Moto in Williamsburg, I left my apartment at five to give ‘ino that second chance. This time around, I got a seat at the bar with no problem, instantly restoring my high hopes. But as I reviewed the menu and asked the bartender questions, she seemed apathetic and distracted. Her answers weren’t helpful and I had to pry information like we were playing a guessing game. I apparently could’ve used the guidance, because the Malvasia Bianca I got wasn’t very good, all the more upsetting because ‘ino is supposed to have a cheap but strong list. Also, the antipasti platter was another disappointment, scrimping on cheeses and meats to focus predominantly on vegetables. It was a competent but lackluster assortment that included fennel, roasted garlic, asparagus and eggplant.

Midway through the meal, the bartender’s demeanor chilled and she became friendlier (as she was packing up her things to leave). My mood also lightened when my chicken, roasted tomato, asiago and rucola panino arrived. It was nearly good enough to erase the bad karma ‘ino had racked up thus far. The toasted bread was wonderfully soft and crisp at the same time, providing a terrific frame for the terrific things inside. The melted asiago was a great glue to the crunch of the rucola and the melt-in-your-mouth chicken and tomato.

Simultaneously though, the room filled up to maximum capacity and again it felt overly claustrophobic. When the new bartender came on, one of the diners had a question for him. “What is bres-ay-oh-la?” she sounded out. He rolled his eyes. “Bresh-oh-la. Bresh-oh-la,” he repronounced as if it were obvious. “Air-dried beef.” Finishing my meal quickly, I paid the check and got out of there. If it weren’t for their panini, I would be happy to write off ‘ino altogether. Maybe even with their panini.

This sentiment only strengthened when walking home across Houston, I happened to peek into a tapas bar named Oliva. The bartender was grinning, telling a joke, and the two patrons at the bar were laughing enthusiastically. “Now that’d be the life,” I thought. 5/10


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