December 2014 update: Il Calabrese is no longer part of Patrizio's in Dallas.
OK, where were we? I thought I was going to have a slow week at work, but I should have known better. Now I think it's going to slow down. So let's get back to that RJG Restaurant Week, shall we?
In my European backpacking days 20+ years ago, I quickly learned that Osteria is Italian for "beyond my budget". I find it interesting to read that the term obviously has evolved, since technically it should be just the opposite: A small place with locally grown ingredients carefully cooked to order. And apparently Highland Park based Patrizio agrees with my personal assessment. In fact, this place could be called Patrizio's Ostentation.
For anyone who commutes up and down 114 in these parts of NE Tarrant, you no doubt saw the palatial villa going up near the Southlake Town Square. There was a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding its opening, and the restaurant frequently suffers from long waiting times. This makes for a lot of hungry, and potentially grumpy, diners-in-waiting, which may explain some of the bad mouthing the place has already had bestowed upon it. But the RJG is smart (on rare occasion that is). We don't go at 7:00 on a Friday night without a reservation. We go at 11:00 in the morning on a Monday. When we arrived, we had the place to ourselves. When we left over an hour later, a line was beginning to develop. Ah, the sweet joys of planning.
Of course, the other aspect of the critique comes naturally to a place that charges a lot of money, and sits in such glorious surroundings. It's easy pickins'. And the RJG concurs with this philosophy as well. I want a restaurant to put their money into the food, not the ambiance. I'll go to a fancy hotel lobby for that, and pretend I'm staying there. And drink their free coffee. While it's tempting to diss places like Patrizio, one must ignore all the window dressing and focus on the main reason we're all here (or the main reason we all should be here): The food. And it is on this latter point, Patrizio delivers a high quality product.
We've spoken at length about the dearth of original Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. Which is not the same thing as saying a lack of Italian restaurants. It's just that they're all about the same. They have roots in the Balkan countries, and they use a similar cookbook. I wouldn't call these places a chain per se, because they have a great amount of latitude - especially around their nightly specials. And this is not a complaint - they do a fine job at traditional Italian cooking. But it gets boring when one is looking for perhaps some original recipes, especially around the basics. There are exceptions of course, places that we've blogged about already, like Oliva and Italianni's. And then there's the chains like Macaroni Grill and Brio. Now we've never spoken about the Ohio based Brio before, but we have been a couple of times (once in Southlake, once in Denver), and I have to admit they are quite good at what they do. Patrizio Osteria is a local response to Brio - and perhaps not surprisingly the location of our local Brio sits in the Southlake Town Square - literally a hop, skip and a jump away from our featured restaurant today.
One of the RJG's rules about fancy restaurants is that if you can't cook the basics, why should I trust you with something more intricate? If a restaurant can't make a decent red sauce, or a good salad dressing, or bolognese - then I'm not going to bother to dig further. We started with an Italian sausage appetizer, since they stated they make their own (good sign). And sure enough, an absolutely delicious sausage was delivered, with the right texture and bold flavor that we prefer (though not overly spicy, but that's to be expected). The salads were excellent, with crisp field greens and an excellent vinaigrette. Mrs. RJG settled on the Conchiglie con Spinachi which is shell pasta with bacon and spinach in a creamy cheese like sauce. She loved it. I had to go with test dish #1: Chicken Parm. With a side of angel hair. Now angel hair is tricky - and in the hands of mere amateurs will almost always come out mushy. Nope, it was al dente. Bravo! The red sauce is very much a tomatoey taste. I think I would have preferred something a bit more hearty but it was still great. The chicken parm was crispy with high quality white meat chicken breast (oh how I tire of those super thin chicken parms with a mushy bread coating). So they scored big on the basics!
Their beer selection was a bit disappointing, though I admit to preferring red wine with Italian food. Didn't matter too much, because on this visit we stuck with water (a rare sober moment I guess...)
I'm all in now, and cannot wait to try some other dishes. Of course, we'll need to plan that visit right?