This evening our manager took us for an 'appreciation dinner' to show her appreciation of our work over the past year. She asked for suggestions and I mentioned Poor Italian, as I know she's a fan of Italian cuisine as is another of my coworkers and it's not too far from our workplace. I had been to this restaurant on two prior occasions. The first time, a few years ago, it was a group dinner and I had ordered a seafood linguine, which wasn't seasoned at all (though the linguine were cooked properly) and had little flavor. The only thing I really enjoyed was the warm bread which was really tasty, with plenty of olive oil in the focaccia. I thought this was maybe an off night for the chef and that he just forgot to season my dish. It can happen. The others in my group seemed satisfied with their fare. Service was OK.
I tried this place again when I took my father out for dinner, last year, as he likes Italian too. My dad had a pretty average looking carbonara (not really a rocket science dish which is easy to prepare) and I ordered a salad for myself which was quite mediocre. Service not so stellar and rather inattentive (ie we were left sitting there with dirty plates)
This evening was my third visit, as my manager and coworkers were game to try this restaurant. We had reservations for 5 pm. Given that it was a Tuesday night, I was surprised at the bad table we were given. It was right at one of the entrance points to the service area (kitchen) so I spent the entire time with a view of the kitchen. It was also chilly and drafty. Not sure why they stuck our small group of 5 there when there were other places to put us and the place did not fill up by the time we left at 7:30.
This is not a good place to dine for someone who has dietary restrictions ie if you do not eat meat, seafood and dairy, there is very little to choose from. Even a dish that could be prepared without meat ingredients such as the daily soup special of asparagus broccoli soup, was made with chicken stock and cream. I cautiously settled on gnocchi in a tomato sauce, as my only alternative choice, mushroom risotto, was made with (yep, you guessed it) meat based stock. I say cautiously because gnocchi are a tricky dish to make. I know good gnocchi .
I was served an enormous plate resembling a flying saucer, which had a hollow filled with a rather small mound of gnocchi (having skipped lunch, in prep for our dinner, I was disappointed at the small portion). Presentation was nonexistent - it was your basic piled up gnocchi with smears of tomato sauce; if it was supposed to have something green as a contrasting garnish (ie parsley or basil), I didn't see any sign of it.
Another of our party also opted for the gnocchi. I tried my first one and found it undercooked. The first few millimeters were cooked and the interior was like raw mushy gnocchi dough. I thought, hmm, maybe it's just one that didn't quite cook long enough. So I tried 4 more, all had the same nasty raw doughy texture. The sauce was very bland, underseasoned and nothing to rave about. Bland was the overall impression, other than the unpleasant texture of the undercooked gnocchi. The other diner who had ordered them found them to be the same, mushy. Neither of us was thrilled with our choice and gave up eating it. When the staff was alerted, a rather menacing large man came over - I don't know who he was, he didn't identify himself to me so not sure if he was the general manager. He loomed over me and attempted to lecture me on what gnocchi are supposed to be like.
Maybe he gets away with this attempt to intimidate and 'persuade' diners who are not happy with their gnocchi when the diners are not very familiar with this particular pasta type. I happen to have eaten heavenly gnocchi at home all my life. I wouldn't expect restaurant gnocchi to match up to my mamma's (exept perhaps in a truly top restaurant with a stellar chef) but I would expect them to be cooked, at the very least. These were not and a few minutes went by while the large man tried to persuade me these gummy, raw disasters were supposed to be that way. At length, seeing we were not willing to choke down the raw gnocchi, they were taken away and we were asked whether we wanted more gnocchi (a tactless suggestion). My friend opted for the lasagna and I asked whether they could make me spaghetti aglio olio. I figured they couldn't mess that up as it's one of the simplest of pasta dishes.
My friend's lasagna was to her satisfaction but from the moment I saw the plate of spaghetti, I knew by their appearance that I wasn't going to be able to eat my second choice of entree either. One of my group had ordered a seafood linguine and I could see it was made from fresh linguine. She was satisfied with her food. My spaghetti was obviously made from dry pasta, which was fine with me, but it wasn't fine with me that it was barely cooked. I was reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch with Father Guido Sarducci cooking spaghetti for his dog. He took a strand of spaghetti out of the pot to ask the dog to test it to see whether it "was-a ready" and the thing had barely bent slightly from its immersion in the boiling water. My spaghetti was not 'a-ready' either. I could tell (and so could the person seated next to me) from its appearance that it was barely cooked, it still had the translucency of dry pasta. On an 'al dente' scale of 1 - 10, with say 4 being a normal al dente state, these were about an 8 or 9. They were getting stuck between my teeth like supersized hard dental floss.
Besides the undercooked state of the spaghetti, whichever of the chefs prepared this disaster didn't put a whole lot into this dish, which, when prepared properly, doesn't sit atop a pool of oil and is garnished with fresh parsley. Just as I know good gnocchi, I know good spaghetti aglio olio. This was not the good kind. I gave up eating it and was managing to at least have some good laughs with my pals over my non-dining experience. The only thing I filled up on somewhat was a couple of small olives, put out on the table along with the bread. Here again, disappointment...I had looked forward to the bread, remembering my first visit and how we had all loved the warm focaccia and lovely variety of breads served while we waited for our food. This time the breads were cold, the focaccia crumbly and the baguette-like bread was hard and chewy. This was basically what I got to eat at Poor Italian so maybe it is well named after all, as I had a real poor man's meal tonight! Bread dunked in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Of the other entrees ordered by my group, the seafood linguine, the lasagna and seafood risotto passed muster with them. My friend who opted for a ravioli dish reported that parts of the ravioli were undercooked. There seems to be a theme developing here...undercooked (maybe the chef on the pasta station needs some remedial classes). He didn't sound too over the moon about his entree and I think he enjoyed his bruschetta appetizer more than the main. Three of my party tried desserts and the double espresso creme brule was deemed delicious as was the Millefoglie. The presentation of the desert plates made up for the lack of presentation on the entrees.
Service was attentive and the waitress told me 'we will pay for the spaghetti', so presumably they did a post-mortem in the kitchen after the busboy asked me whether I wanted the uneaten (and inedible) spaghetti wrapped up and I told him no, it was undercooked and inedible. I was glad as my boss was picking up the tab and would have felt bad if she paid for that inedible mess.
This place could be good if only it were consistent and the kitchen not staffed with hit & miss chefs. I won't be returning here or recommending this place to anyone. After this third strike, they're out.