One of the questions I get most often is “How do you choose a restaurant?” Unlike a food writer that has an editorial calendar, I get to pick what I want to cover (though some writers get to pick what they write about, as Donna Covrett pointed out to me on Facebook). It’s actually pretty easy, and a three-step process.
1. I have a list of restaurants I want to go to. This may be a new opening or something in a neighborhood I don’t get to very often, but it’s a running, in-my-head list that I ought to put in Evernote.
2. Cravings, just like anyone else.
3. Negotiation with whoever I’m with, usually The Better Half.
On Saturday, we found ourselves on a Suburban Excursion– we hit up Kenwood Mall, Barnes and Noble, Trader Joe’s and needed to have dinner. I turned to The Better Half. ”What are you in the mood for?” ”Italian. Or Chinese. What’s that little place in Madeira we never go to?”
The answer was Ferrari’s Little Italy, which is located off of Miami Road in Madeira, and it’s as family-style an Italian place as you can imagine: checked tablecloths, low ceilings, racks of wine and, at the time we were dining, an array of diners: families with children, a few couples, and a boisterous table of octogenarians celebrating a birthday with a lot of spumoni and tiramisu (were I an octogenarian, I’d eat as much of it as I could, too).
You enter into a tiny bakery/deli area where you can buy their freshly-baked bread and sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meat, as well as a small assortment of wine and Italian groceries. It’s reminiscent of the old La Rosa’s in Western Hills, when they had the little Italian store– just much smaller.
Ferrari’s is a somewhat standard, family-oriented Italian experience: large plates of pasta, salads, and pizzas, all in sizes for sharing. They also have a nice twist: not only can you get some decently-priced glasses of wine, but you can get very fairly priced bottled craft beer (around $4 a bottle). Service is brusque but not unfriendly: just very efficient, as it needs to be in this sort of restaurant.roceries. I’d like to go back just to try the sandwiches, but I figured I’d get to try the bread with dinner.
We started out splitting a small Chop Chop salad, with two kinds of olives, salami, Parmesan, “lasagna chips” (I think they were actually wontons) and a homemade Italian dressing. Splitting the small salad was perfect for two people, and the chunks of salami was a nice change of pace for an otherwise standard salad. The Italian dressing was nice, too, though next time I’ll order it on the side to control the portion. It was served with a basket of their freshly-baked bread, and though I enjoyed the olive bread with a cheesy crust, I was disappointed to find out that the bread had freshly come out of the refrigerator: it was downright chilly. I’ll need to grab a loaf of that to go and keep it at room temperature, as I really enjoyed the bread, even cold.
The Better Half’s order at an Italian restaurant is pretty easy: spaghetti and meatballs, so his menu was down in mere seconds. I glanced at the menu, and decided I was in a mood for carbonara, a fairly standard Italian dish. They had it– but the description said “alfredo with bacon and peas”. With sadness, I skipped it. Carbonara is not a cream sauce; any creaminess is from egg. I settled on a tortellini Florentine instead.
The “gravy” (as they call it on the east coast) for The Better Half’s spaghetti meatball was very good: rich and thick, with good seasoning and a lot of tomato flavor. The meatball did not hold up to the sauce: it was bland, with little seasoning. No cheese was offered by the server or on the table.
The tortellini was much better as a complete dish: a tomato-based sauce with a touch of cream, cheese-filled pasta and a lot of fresh spinach. The portion was huge– I ordered a small and only finished about a quarter of it.
We skipped dessert. I know, that makes me a horrible food reviewer, but I refuse to be uncomfortably full anymore. I so rarely get anything for dessert at Italian restaurants because I’m so full– and this was the case as well.
On the way out of the car, we discussed dinner, and came up with a consensus: it was, at times, good but overall just okay. It had some strong points– the fresh-baked bread (even cold) and the salad– but some inconsistencies as well. I’d like to see an actual carbonara, warm (or at least room temperature) bread and flavorful meatballs. I’d like to be wowed– and I just wasn’t. Our opinion was further supported by the fact that we left with leftovers and promptly forgot about them in the car until Monday. Oops. On the other hand, had it been bread as leftovers, I wouldn’t have forgotten– I’ll definitely go back to buy some bread. If you’re in the area and like standard, 50s-style Italian and want to stay local, try it– but don’t make a special trip.