Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amore Victoria

I have an unnatural fear of Uptown. It's not that I don't enjoy it well enough once I'm there, it's just that it never seems like a good idea to leave the relative safety of my home to go. But a friend of ours has a role in a show at the Jungle, and it seemed like a reasonable idea to combine an evening of theater with a decent dinner somewhere, so I did what any properly equipped twenty-first-century nerd would do.

I fired up my GPS app and asked it where to eat in Uptown.

What I found was Amore Victoria. It seemed from the photo like a sweet little Italian place, and since Miss J has been training for her latest marathon, we've become partial to pasta joints. I had never heard of it, but the menu looked good, the people on the phone were nice to me, and trying a new place is always fun. So, smart phone in hand, we made sure our papers were in order and set out for Lynlake.

The first good news was the parking lot. Parking is one of the reasons I fear Uptown. So, one problem solved. The restaurant is very pretty. If you were outside, and not paying careful attention, it might seem small and cozy. Inside, it stays cozy, but the room is surprisingly spacious, with a bar at one end, two main rooms for dining, and more space downstairs that looked like it might be for private parties. The atmosphere was nice, and quiet when we arrived (why don't more places realize this is a good thing), although it turns out Amore is quite the popular destination. When we left, they were lined up, and the place was darned loud. I was glad our table was a bit out of the way.

There are, as far as I can tell, two rules in Italian cuisine. 1: start with good stuff. 2: don't screw it up. Seriously, there is something gloriously uncomplicated about good Italian. I suppose that's the luxury of growing up in a garden. Good food is near at hand, and beyond a certain point, finesse is not really required. Contrast that with French food, and you'll see what I mean. My friend Tim once described French food to me this way: "Here are all the wrong parts of a cow. Go." A generalization to be sure, but you get the point. Technique becomes a bigger deal when you have less to work with. This is why I will always be suspicious when confronted with expensive Italian food. If you don't make it abundantly clear to me what I'm paying for, you're going to end up on my bad side. Not that I'm particularly threatening or anything, but still. Karma will catch up to you sooner or later.

Which is not to say that Amore Victoria is expensive. Far from it. Prices were very reasonable, given the portions (they're not skimping) and the quality. But our meal was perplexing, mostly because of my Two Simple Rules. First up was an appetizer of pan-seared gnocchi, with white wine, garlic, parmigiano, pistachios, mushrooms, and a partridge in a pear tree. Seriously, it was like someone forgot the gnocchi, and wanted to distract me so I didn't notice they were missing. To be fair, all of this was awfully good. The pistachios lent a surprising bite without overcomplicating the flavor, parmigiano is nearly always heaven, and there's really no need to discuss the combination of wine, garlic, and mushrooms. Suffice to say that the dish worked. Hard. The funny thing was, the weak links here were the gnocchi. It's not a stretch to expect potato gnocchi to taste, well, like potatoes. These were on the doughy side, clearly over-floured. Not terrible, but not what they should have been (see rule #1).

For dinner, I ordered the Tortellini Alla Panna. These were large, house-made, stuffed with beef, veal and spinach, and accompanied by prosciutto, all in an unapologetically rich and wonderful cream sauce. I made a fine choice. If my plate had been any larger, I would have finished up with a nap right there at the table. Miss J went with a scallop and linquini dish in a tomato-based sauce with asparagus and enough garlic to season a side of beef. The sauce was also surprisingly spicy, which seemed odd, since neither the menu nor our waiter mentioned that. Spicy doesn't seem like the sort of thing that should be a surprise.

The scallops were perfect, the flavors were compelling, and the asparagus (my one true love in the vegetable kingdom) still had enough snap to make me happy. But now we come to rule #2. We were informed almost as soon as we sat down that all of the pasta was homemade. They are proud of this, and justifiably so. But the linguini that served as the basis of this wonderful dish was flavorless and overcooked. Badly overcooked. It was barely able to provide a texture. Now this is a good old-fashioned head scratcher to me. If you believe that there is virtue in making your own pasta (and I do), why on earth would you cook it into oblivion? One of the truly glorious things about fresh pasta is that you barely have to cook it at all. The bite is part of the joy. So, what should have been the centerpiece of a wholly successful dish ended up seeming like an afterthought. This is where I sigh out loud, even as I'm writing.

We split the dessert, which was a very well-done creme brulee, along with a nice bottle of Cesanese. One quick note to the server (not ours) who thought table-side creme brulee was a nice idea: it's not. All of that sugar doesn't become a crust until it cools down. And the torch, see, is really hot, and...oh, never mind. The one we got was carried out to us complete, and it was excellent.

So thanks for the recommendation, iPhone. We had a great time, and with a couple of puzzling exceptions, the meal was a treat. Beautiful space, good value, nice atmosphere (volume notwithstanding) and kind, professional staff. That's a good night in my book. If we were in the neighborhood, we'd stop in again. If we started out on our own side of the River, there are other places we'd try first. It would be a perfect spot for a first date, if you find yourself needing such a thing. Dinner, then a show at The Jungle. If you can find another parking place, you might as well make a night of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment