Caffe Pranzo: Reunited and it tastes so good
Before Monday, it had probably been three years since I’d been to Caffe Pranzo. After lunch, I wanted to kick myself in a place that’s anatomically impossible to reach for those three years lost.
It was never about the food or the service. The simple fact was three years ago I was working a job that didn’t afford me the luxury of a casual lunch. I had one lunch that went a little long, then each time that followed when it was suggested I only remembered that one long lunch and dismissed it. That doesn’t excuse me for not showing up at dinner.
This is a great little place to eat. Rick Gratch has owned it for 12 of the 14 years its been open, taking over when it’s predecessor Gagliardi’s closed.
The specialty is no-nonsense Italian food made from fresh ingredients and served with a higher level of precision than the majority of Italian eateries around the city.
On Monday, Lori and I started with Fried Calamari to be followed by a portobello sandwich for her and an Insalate Pesce for me.
All meals at Pranzo, though, begin with house bread and their take on vinegar and oil. Rather than pour you a 3 to 1 portion of balsamic and olive oil on a dish, they mix their dressing ahead and include sweet peppers and assorted herbs and spices. Whatever the assortment is, it’s working.
When the calamari arrived, our server, Joe whose friendliness and knowledge of the menu and the restaurant was only exceeded in intensity by the gray of his ponytail, said under his breath that we were about to eat the best version of this popular appetizer in the city. I’m not ready to make that proclamation, but I would certainly be happy to serve as judge in a competition on the matter. And I wouldn’t bet against the calamari we had, which was served with both marinara and acciughe sauce, that’s anchovies but don’t fear it. The influence is subtle and the result is a perky, piquant sauce that lights up the palate. The marinara is a welcomed balance. That said, the hand-breaded calamari worked just fine with neither condiment. I could’ve eaten it all day, and almost did.
As the calamari gradually disappeared, Lori and I discussed our past experiences with the restaurant and agreed that it was tragic that neither of us had been in so long. We agreed quiet, classy stops like Pranzo aren’t to be forgotten but lauded for their effort to keep flavor first and leave the hawking to those who aspire to be Colonel Sanders to an unborn generation. Nothing wrong with ambition or goals, but sometimes those things get in the way of the food. Not always, sometimes. Caffe Pranzo is an unpretentious attempt to connect with the community through pasta, pizza and wine.
Lori called her portobello sandwich the best she’d ever had. Ever. As I sat down to blog on our lunch, she reminded me that I needed to mention that. She told Joe the same thing, saying that it was a nice change to be able to taste the mushroom and not some heavy-handed marinade that masked the fungi-goodness but made the bread a soggy mess.
My Insalate Pesce included grilled shrimp and scallops over chilled linguni and mixed greens with house dressing. It was the kind of lunch that reminded me how much I really do love entree salads. I used to be insane for the spicy lemon chicken salad at Pepperoni Grill. The shrimp was grilled and tasty, the pasta perfect and the greens fresh and leafy. The dressing made it all come together. The only misstep was the scallops, which were the pencil-eraser-sized variety. I initially thought they were corn nuts, and frankly I would’ve rather them been corn nuts. They were dry, bland and didn’t add any interesting texture. The scallops mediocrity, though, would not preclude me from making the same order again.
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