A Year In Food

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

Saturday, May 28, 2005

May 28.

Dinner -

Roberto's - Gamberi e Fagoli (Shrimp and white cannellini beans); Bucatini alla tre salse (Pasta with a blend of pesto, mascarpone and tomato sauce); Penne con salsiccia e broccoli di rapa (Penne with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe sauteed in garlic and oil); Veal scaloppine with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto and tomato sauce; Tartufo; one-fourth of a bottle of San Giorgio in Villa, Chianti Classico 2001; a bottle of Amstel Light

Just try getting a foodie to eat in Little Italy. Most of them would rather eat rusty nails cooked by Emeril Lagasse at Applebee's. But your chances improve when the neighborhood in question is Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and not tourist-mobbed Mulberry. Known as a more authentic version of the Italian-American experience, we wanted a taste of what it had to offer.

And so Steve picked me up in his snazzy Acura on Saturday, and GPS-powered, we charged toward the unknown through mostly deserted streets. As we raced out of Manhattan, I felt a hint of adrenaline and the possibility of adventure, but more than anything, I was hungry. We were headed to Roberto's, which people often refer to as the best restaurant in the Bronx and the best traditional Italian in the city. And while I'm admittedly not the biggest fan of red sauce fare (see May 23), I figured that the best would have to be pretty good.

Because Roberto's doesn't take reservations and their waits are famously maniacal, Steve and I had planned to meet Vince and Libby at a Boca Raton retiree-early six o'clock. Walking up to the attractive pink building just off of Arthur, the front room was more crammed with parties waiting than diners, many of them decked out in navy Jeter T-shirts. Somehow, we hadn't considered the Yankee game that had recently let out or the complication that would pose. Still, with no better option, I put my name down and ordered a beer at the packed bar.

Forty-five minutes later, the hostess led me, Steve, Vince and Libby downstairs to a more sedate wine cellar. A waiter recited a litany of specials, his eyes rolling back into his head to remember each ingredient. We read through the menu although it was practically unnecessary. Every dish was so familiar and plain it almost induced a sense of deja vu. We did our best though to dig up the most interesting items.

We started with Gamberi e Fagioli, or shrimp and beans, which is essentially what it sounds like. Add a little balsamic vinegar and a few hunks of soft bread and you're done. It wasn't a bad dish exactly, but the whole time I thought how easy it would be to make. Considering my ability to mess up a bowl of cereal, that's saying a lot.

Next we had two pastas, bucatini in three sauces and penne with sausage and broccoli rabe. In the former, we had substituted bucatini in place of farfalle, because I don't really like bowtie pasta. It turns out however that the sauce was the problem here. Instead of the pesto, tomato sauce and mascarpone combining to form some hybrid supersauce, they reduced to a milky, watered-down pesto. The penne was better but again tasted standard and uninspiring.

My entree, the veal scaloppine, showed no symptom of improvement. Instead, it was my least favorite dish of the night. The meat tasted like cafeteria-quality and the preparation was exceptionally ordinary. Every bite was salty and obvious, and again, I thought how I could have made this at home -- and better.

Thankfully, I was at least wowed by dessert, a tartufo that delivered the straightforward wallop nothing else could. It was simple but intense, and unlike the veal that I half-heartedly finished, I savored every spoonful here. It proved at least that Roberto's wasn't a total washout and that if we had ordered differently, we may have unearthed more wonders. Still, with the wait we stood through, the friendly but ultimately too sloppy service we received, and most importantly, the unsatisfying meal we had, the restaurant was a big disappointment. In fact, thought it may shock many foodies, I've even had better dinners in Little Italy. Yes, that Little Italy. 4/10


Anonymous Sean said...

It sounds like your problem might have been that you ordered from the menu. It's best to stick with the specials, or even to ask your waiter (or Roberto, if he's there) to pick for you. I've eaten there three times and have always had wonderful meals.

4:10 PM  

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