8 years ago
|Dale F. Bentson , a Professional Reviewer, wrote:||
by Dale F. Bentson, Palo Alto Weekly (Aug 1, 2008)
It is no accident that Carpaccio has been a fixture in Menlo Park for the past 21 years. The ambiance is warm and inviting, the waitstaff friendly and knowledgeable, the food tasty and satisfying.
The bar scene is lively and habitues are of a certain age; at least no one that I saw was wearing a baseball cap backwards. Of course, as the evening wears on, the barflies skew younger.
Carpaccio is a decidedly Italian affair; that is, the menu mimics what Americans have defined as Italian fare. This isn't necessarily bad and it is what the restaurant's customers demand and expect, yet it is removed from the experience of contemporary Italian cuisine.
If I am to criticize anything about Carpaccio, it is that old-school notion of spaghetti and meatballs, veal piccata and cannelloni, zabaglione and tiramisu. While the menu is periodically updated and weekly specials allow the kitchen some creativity, the longer a restaurant exists, the more locked into its ways it becomes because its loyal patrons demand it.
Five years ago, I reviewed essentially the same dishes at Carpaccio, save for a few newer entries. Every other year, managing partner Ciya Martorana visits a different part of Italy, returning with new enthusiasm and ideas. I suppose those ideas are more reflected in the weekly specials than in upending the established order of things.
One such special, forno-legna asparagi grantinati ($10.50), an antipasto, was irresistible with spears of oven-roasted green asparagus, cambozola cheese, and shallot relish, all drizzled with sherry vinaigrette.
Cambozola is a cow's-milk cheese that is a hybrid of French triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola. Triple cream cheeses quickly separate when warmed, but the kitchen got it just right and the eloquent flavors of tender vegetable and rich dairy lingered happily on the palate.
Regular menu antipasti included bruschetta ($7.95), a gargantuan portion of grilled, garlic-smeared sourdough bread buried under an avalanche of chopped fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil. It was plenty for several people as an appetizer, overwhelming for one person.
Grilled polenta with wild mushrooms ($8.50) was a more reasonable portion. The polenta was nicely toasted around the edges without being dried out or charred. The mushrooms were meek but the veal reduction with Madeira added intrigue to the plate.
Also successful was the bombetta di parmigiano ($10.75), a mini parmesan souffle served warm with baby spinach, arugula and shaved asparagus in a champagne-walnut oil vinaigrette. The airy souffle was creamy, bitter and sweet.
Carpaccio offers a dozen versions of pasta. I favored the house-made pappardelle ($15.75). The flat pasta was tossed with black pepper, sun dried tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms and a splash of Chianti for good measure. The dish was vibrant and hearty, perfumed by the shallots, pepper and wine. The pappardelle was cooked al dente, which gave the dish texture.
Spaghettini con polpette della nonna ($14.25) was a monster portion of spaghetti with "grandmother-style meatballs" interlaced with marinara sauce. It wasn't bad, just bland, with nothing to distinguish it other than the size of the portion.
The kitchen graciously split our pasta orders or we wouldn't have been able to indulge in so many courses during our visits. The gregarious waitstaff was quick to oblige any request, and pacing from the kitchen was perfect.
For main courses, the veal piccata ($19.90) was delicious. The medallions of veal were fork-tender and sauteed with the acidity of lemon and capers, giving the meat a jazzy lift. Veal is, by far, the most popular meat in Italy. As I don't want to touch off another foie gras-style, ethical-food-consumption argument, suffice it to say that Carpaccio uses Privimi veal from Wisconsin, the best and most tender veal available in the U.S.
Petto di pollo alla griglia ($16.25) was a grilled chicken breast paillard (pounded very thin and cooked quickly) atop wilted greens with roasted vegetables. The chicken was fleshy and rich and was balanced by the earthy greens that accompanied.
Fresh sole, petrale al pomodoro ($18.95) was sauteed with tomatoes and garlic. It wasn't the best choice. The fish was overmatched by the acidity of the tomatoes. The dish needed something else, seafood or vegetable, to offset the sharpness. While petrale is oft used in bouillabaisse and cioppino, those dishes incorporate many more ingredients to counterbalance the tomatoes.
Carpaccio has survived the vagaries of the restaurant business for over two decades by serving what its devoted customers want. There is a familiarity to the surroundings, the menu, and the service. In these uncertain times, what could be more welcoming?