Saturday, December 4, 2010


Miss J was nice enough to fetch me at the airport this evening, and somehow the initial text, which I believe was, "Baby wants a good burger- Nook?" became, "You know what we should try? Scusi." Never one to run from an adventure, I readily agreed. The Nook will be just fine, after all, and it won't take us long to make it back there.

Scusi has been the source of much buzz since it opened up a few months back, mostly because it is brought to you by the good people of The Blue Plate Restaurant Company, caretakers of several of the most consistently satisfying cafés in the cities. Highland Grill has been a favorite of ours for years. I could live on that breakfast burrito. But I digress. Scusi, as the name would imply, offers the Blue Plate take on Italian. Now, I have all sorts of opinions on Italian food, but with the possible exception of head cheese, anything is worth trying once, so off we went.

I had heard that it was impossible to get a table at Scusi. This was not the case. They were quite busy, but not overwhelmed, and we were promptly provided with an out-of-the-way table for two. Well, against the wall, anyway. Nothing can really manage to be out-of-the-way in a big square room. We began with a bottle of Italian red and a "pick three" special from a nice selection of cured meats and cheeses. The tomato jam was a perfect addition here. There's also an olive menu, if you are so inclined. I should also mention that there were three Italian reds available by the bottle for $20 or less, no small feat in this town.

I was about to say that the idea of dining at Scusi is not unrelated to the approach at Buca di Beppo, but that's not really true. You'd be better off thinking of The Sample Room. Once you start ordering hot food, things are set in the middle of the table and you share them. Nothing is enormous, which gives you room to try several different things. If this is a trend, I must say I'm a fan. Everything we ordered was portioned perfectly for two.

Everything was also very, very good. We started with gnocchi in a veal Bolognese sauce. I seldom have good experiences with gnocchi in restaurants, but these were heaven- light and potatoey and a perfect vehicle for rich, meaty goodness. The sauce may have been the one small misstep. A good Bolognese cooks for hours, and the crunch of the carrot and the texture of the meat both suggested this was not the case here. Still, it was darned good. Just not exactly what I expected. Next came the Lasagna, with spinach, ricotta, red and green peppers, eggplant, and a wonderful San Marzano tomato sauce. Last but not least there was the squash risotto, with butternut, gorgonzola dolce, spinach and parmigiano reggiano. I've heard from quite a few friends and authors that risotto is not difficult. I think they're all either lying or on drugs. In my experience, there is about a five minute window between creamy bliss and wallpaper paste. This was exactly right- easily the best I've had. This dish alone would have been enough to get me back in the door.

The other cool thing here, and I was skeptical about this at first, is that the hot dishes all come out as they're ready. This works surprisingly well, and it means that this food is landing on your table when it is better than it will ever be again. With food of this quality, that is a distinction that matters.

Dessert was a pumpkin bread pudding. This was a joy. Nothing too sweet, nothing smothered, nothing numbingly heavy. Just moist and light and wonderfully flavored. Definitely recommended, although it was a special, so who knows when you'll see it again?

For all of the ambience, you might just as easily be at the Macaroni Grill. I'm not a huge fan of paper on tables, and the battery operated tea lights were very nearly unforgivable. My visiting Italian friend also had a great deal of trouble with the name. Can't blame him, really. I suppose if I went to Milan and found a burger joint called "Sorry," I wouldn't exactly knock the door down to get in. But the service more than makes up for the style choices. Everyone was very kind and very professional.

Quality-to-price ratio here is exceptional. If you're not drinking, two of you can have a ball for around $50. With a decent bottle, you can adjust accordingly.

Once again, the Blue Platers did not disappoint. If you feel like Italian, check it out. Try something you've never had. Go out on a limb here. You can afford it, and Scusi will not let you down. You will leave with a much better idea of how this cuisine is supposed to work when it's done well.


  1. Very interesting, thank you Mark. In fact, as I saw it, as an Italian I wouldn't have suggested, or expected anything good nor been attracted by such a place called: "I'm sorry" - and even in his formal form! The website is also interesting.

  2. You should honestly do this for a living...well, and sing...