Friday, September 21, 2012

Lorenzo's Ristorante

My first experience with Buffalo Wild Wings was at the restaurant adjacent to the Hampton Inn downtown, on the first day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2002. My buddy Scott and I went down there know, I don’t have a clue who the other people were; but we watched basketball and drank beer pretty much all day, and it was awesome. I also thought the chicken, for chain-restaurant fast-casual, was exceptional. Lots of place serve breaded chicken tenders that are long on the breading and short on the chicken, but that was not the case that day. It was some of the best chicken of that sort that I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of breaded chicken tenders from BW3 since then—but none of them have been as close to as good as the ones I had watching basketball that day.

Unfortunately, that BW3 closed. The space it was in has since re-opened—and subsequently closed, generally in short order—as a Cajun place, a burger joint, and a downtown branch of a well-known Italian restaurant in Broad Ripple. It’s currently open, in its fifth iteration in the last ten years, as an Italian place called Lorenzo’s. Amy and I picked it mostly at random for dinner just to ourselves this past Wednesday night, after going to the first parent-teacher conference at Jackson’s school. Downtown already has several established indie Italian restaurants, as well as a couple of established chain Italian restaurants—all of which are reasonably good to very good at what they do. I don’t know if Lorenzo’s quite has what it takes to run with the big dogs in the fairly competitive downtown Italian restaurant market.

We rolled in at around five in the evening, and were seated immediately. There are lots of blacks and whites in the dining room, along with a few pieces of art, but nothing jumped out at me to suggest that they were trying to evoke character or set a mood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without ambience, you could just be eating at home—unless the food is very, very good. This brings to mind a place called Smokey Joe’s, that once lived for a brief time down in Greenwood. The dining room and bar were completely open, and except for a smattering of local sports memorabilia, it was maybe the most boring dining room ever. But oh, the food. Once you tucked into their cavatappi mac and cheese, or started throwing around the house-made barbecue sauces on the house-smoked pulled pork or beef brisket, you could have been anywhere in the world, and it would not have mattered.

The food at Lorenzo’s has its moments, but they’re hit and miss. They start you out with a loaf of crusty, airy bread, along with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette that you can mix up on little plates to your own liking. This was a nice touch, as was the bowl of cheese that came with the bread. The balsamic vinaigrette was bright and fruity, but it tended to overpower the other flavors, even in fairly small doses. They have the salads you would expect to find at an Italian restaurant, including Caesar and Caprese; but there were also a couple of unique offerings, including a Pear salad with mixed greens, candied pecans, gorgonzola, Asian pears, and rosemary dressing. Amy and I both went for this salad, though I was tempted by the Chopped salad, with red pepper, red onion, artichoke hearts, salami, olives, garlic, zucchini, and gorgonzola.

It was the rosemary dressing that seduced me to go with the Pear salad, though. I’ve developed an affection for rosemary in pasta that borders on the obsessive. After tasting the balsamic vinaigrette with the bread, I was hoping that the rosemary dressing on the salad would be similarly bright and flavorful. The flavors in the salad were a little more balanced, though. The thin slices of pear were sweet and juicy and just a little bit tangy, which made the kitchen’s choice to go with a mild dressing an even better one. If they had combined those pears with their balsamic vinaigrette, the two flavors would have combined into a single, indistinguishable flavor. There was just enough dressing to loosen things up without drowning the mixed greens, but in the end I think I might have been better served if I had gone with the Chopped salad.

For dinner, I went with linguini with clams, which is pretty straightforward, except that this version included pancetta. I thought it an odd choice for linguini and clams, but it was certainly in line with the kitchen’s obvious interest in pairing classic Italian food with strong individual flavors. Unfortunately, most of the food I encountered suffered from having that one strong, unique flavor that got in the way of the other flavors. In this case, it was the pancetta, which almost wholly masked the flavor of the clams and completely obliterated the other flavors, which, according to the menu, were garlic, olive oil and white wine butter sauce. None of the other flavors, obscured by clouds or otherwise, was parsley, I’m sorry to say.

Amy had the Ravioli della Mama, which was filled with spinach and cheese and then topped with a pesto cream sauce. I was more impressed with one bite of her dish than I was with all of mine. The cheese in these ravioli was a pleasantly gooey mix of ricotta and a hard, sharp cheese like Parmesan or Romano. The basil in the sauce was almost otherworldly, so fresh and earthy that I would not have been surprised to find that it had come directly out of the ground only moments before it was puréed into sauce. It was an extremely rich dish, but Amy actually managed to eat all of it—apart from that single bite that I tried.

I had thought that the portions looked a little bit small when the entrées came out, despite the fact that they were served in the most enormous dinner bowl/plates I think I’ve ever seen. Considering that Amy ate the whole thing and that I was still hungry even after all the components of food had been cleared from the table, I can say without reservation that the portions at Lorenzo’s are fairly small and definitely overpriced. Each of our entrées was $18, and the salads were $9 each. Given the sparseness of the dining room, the hostess texting in plain view while seated at the bar, and the fact that I left hungry, I can only conclude that most of what I spent at Lorenzo’s is going toward what is probably an exorbitant rent bill.

Lorenzo’s Ristorante
15 East Maryland Street

Friday, September 14, 2012

Deep Thoughts #90

Got the following in a fortune cookie and am thinking of sending it along to Paul Ryan: “Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much on spending.”