Friday, September 3, 2010

Italian Gardens Restaurante

Out on East Washington Street, near the old L. Fish furniture store, you'll find the venerable Italian Gardens Restaurante. While I tend to not often crave Italian, we wanted to get over to this stand-by for many for an updated taste for a review.

What stood out immediately upon entering the establishment was.... the smell. In the little lobby/anteroom, the place just smelled old. I'm not sure you can buy or import that smell, but it certainly smelled like the dust-embedded furniture in your great-aunt's place. Once within the restaurant itself, the smell improved drastically, with all of the age covered in the smell of the food, so that was an immediate upgrade.

We were there on a Tuesday night, and it was pretty slow. The wait staff was casual, friendly, but prompt and attentive. The decor seemed to be themed around vintage clutter. But, I kind of liked all of the old, decorative glass in the window as I prefer structural art objects over 2D. And, I really like how much detail they used to put in some of the old bottles.

Anyhow, we had great service the whole time. I think this restaurant gets a LOT of return customers with a long standing history with the place, and that says a lot. One thing that stood out to me is that the salad dressings were very tasty and they definitely seemed to be made in house. I had the Mediterranean salad before my entree (there are 4 salad choices) and you could taste the honey in the dressing that was used to sweeten it. The Greek dressing was also great. The bread was a bit more dense than I'd prefer, but they were coated in a fine glaze of garlic butter.

We had three entrees delivered to our table - shrimp scampi, spinach ravioli and creamy pesto with chicken over linguine. I had the creamy pesto, and it had a rich, deep, textured flavor that I really enjoyed. The sauce was liberally dispensed, however as the sauce cooled, the olive oil separated more and more from the cream and left unappealing oil pockets throughout depressional areas in the bowl. Regardless, this was a really taste pasta dish that I would not only have again, but I might go back just for the dish. And, I tend to order new items, not necessarily do many repeat items at restaurants.

The ravioli was nice, but the dish again was liberally coated in sauce. Somewhere beneath the surface (below) are several nicely made and tasty ravioli.

The shrimp scampi was a disappointment to look at. The shrimp themselves looked like they came from a bag of frozen shrimp from Kroger. They were okay, but definitely paled in comparison to many other versions of this dish. The accompanying pasta was fine, but not noteworthy.

Overall, the prices seemed a bit expensive to me, with all of these entrees in the $15 range. I may not be giving enough credit to what goes into the labor of the food, but the location strikes me as being pretty reasonable rent if it isn't owned outright. But, often, I find that pasta tends to be overpriced - so maybe it is just my bias.

The verdict: 3 belly rubs (out of 5). Some quality notes elevate from the vintage (musty?) surroundings.

Maybe the most humorous part of the evening, for me, was when I picked up on the music at one point. And, yes, Frank Sinantra was singing "Old MacDonald".... Now, I'm not up on the Sinantra discography, but this cracked me up. When I pull up the song on YouTube, I realize he had re-done the lyrics, so it made more sense to how it would be a Sinatra song, but... still, found it pretty funny. We also were treated to some Dean Martin, so the music fit the decor quite well.

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