Do you guys ever watch Kitchen Nightmares? I love that show. It would be fun to make a drinking game from it: every time Gordon drops the f-bomb, drink a tequila shot. I’d be down for the count by the first commercial break.
It’s also helped me, in a small way, to become a critical diner. It’s not that I subscribe to WWGRD? (What Would Gordon Ramsay Do?), but there are some things he’s pointed out that I agree with– one of which is, if available, use high quality ingredients.
Trattoria Roma has been a favorite of mine for years. I’d never ventured much past pasta with them– I loved their tortellini alla vodka (which is off the menu but supposedly you can ask for it) and their tiramisu (which I liked until I had better tiramisu). Trattoria Roma feels really fancy when you’re 18 and you’ve not spent a lot of time downtown. Now, it feels just a tiny bit dingy, but in a charming way. It is incredibly slow if there’s nothing going on at the Aronoff, but when there is, you’re greeted by a maître d’ who is straight out of the Godfather, slicked back hair, Italian accent and all. At times you wonder if someone is going to burst in with a tommy gun and take people out, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre-style.
Our first problem with the high-quality ingredients? The “Mediterranean salad”. It looked like a good idea– mozzarella, olives, and red pepper with Balsamic vinaigrette. Its execution, however, wasn’t. The black olives were the big ones that come in a can, and the red pepper wasn’t freshly roasted, but also jarred. The mozzarella was tasteless, and it was all served atop iceberg lettuce. This is a “dump” salad– dump a can of this and a can of that. Really not worth the $10. Gordon would send it back. He might even throw things around and make the chef cry.
Pasta? Come here for pasta. Terry got veal Parmigiana, which was good, if overly sauced with a very good, richly flavored tomato sauce. There’s not a lot of subtlety here– big flavors, big portions, moderate price tag. If you think about the owners targeting their clients, which is the theater crowd, it makes sense. The theater crowd is looking for something fast, fancy (but not too fancy) and familiar (but maybe slightly exotic). You can take your grandma here, and you can take a date here. It won’t blow them away, but it’s not chain Italian, either. Gordon would probably be OK with it, but comment on the oversaucing.
I got the tortellini in cream sauce with artichokes and peas. This is where we get into the “use quality ingredients”. The peas and the artichokes were canned. Frozen would have been better– and understandable– but it didn’t detract from the very nice cream sauce. Gordon would cut out the peas and artichokes and just call it tortellini Alfredo.
In all? This is a totally safe restaurant. It’s not amazing, but would probably please someone with simple tastes. It fills the “downtown, traditional Italian” craving pretty well, and it is a good pre-theater choice. Is it Nicola’s? No. It’s not trying to be. It could be improved with fresh ingredients, but for a simple bowl of pasta, this is a good choice.