Taverna on the Square
Here’s how a good manager-type does it: First of all, she’s constantly scanning the room, so she notices when seated-long-ago customers start getting fidgety. She brings water over herself and offers to take the customers’ order.
When the customers whine about it being too dark to read the menu, she offers suggestions that show she’s intimately familiar with the restaurant’s dishes. The crowning touch: When she raises the houselights from horror-movie-basement setting, the customers can see that “gnocchi” is spelled correctly on the menu.
This role-model-manager-type, Toni, came all the way from Dallas to help open Taverna Pizzeria & Risottoria’s new Sundance Square location (465 Throckmorton St.). It took the former Zoë spot, and whatever issues Chow, Baby may have had with the now-collapsed Planet Zolon empire, those guys sure knew how to interior-design a restaurant – but Zoë’s sleek postmodern décor is now mucked up by Taverna’s hanging dried things, plates attached to the wall, and disco music. Also there’s a pizza oven in the middle of the room. Pizza ovens are not sleek.
At least our dinner was gorgeous, though the dishes ranged from swooningly sublime to missed-it-by-that-much. An appetizer of melt-in-the-mouth carpaccio ($9) was served in the classic style, the shaved raw beef topped with arugula, lots of thin-sliced pungent Parmesan, and a rosemary-infused olive oil with a hint of lemon juice. Next came Chow, Baby’s newest favoritest dish in all the world: fiocchi al gorgonzola e pera ($14), perky little pasta purses stuffed with gorgonzola and pears and perched in a mild, creamy gorgonzola sauce studded with walnut pieces. Perfect. But Taverna went from A-plus to A-minus with the pan-seared tuna ($19, served with perfectly roasted asparagus), which was cooked a little more than the requested rare and didn’t have a nice crisp to its edge. It also didn’t have the melt-in-the-mouth texture that good tuna should, sort of a cross between prime rib-eye and butter, and its aftertaste was conspicuously fishy. Make that a B-minus.
A few more points were lost with the soup, er, risotto of the day ($17.95), a flavorful brew of crabmeat, shallots, and artichoke hearts, but – Chow, Baby’s whiny tone is creeping back in – the rice was mushy, not al dente, and the cooking stock hadn’t been completely absorbed, so the whole thing was runny rather than firm and creamy. Yes, risotto is hard to do perfectly, it takes time and constant stovetop attention, but if you have “risottoria” in your very name and you’re charging $18 for the dish, Chow, Baby expects you to make it at least as well as it does at home. Well, could if it wanted to.
After those dips, though, Taverna made an incredible comeback with balsamic ice cream with sautéed strawberries ($6). Amazing stuff, the sweetly intense balsamic essence melding neatly with the cream and the strawberries, capped with a fresh mint leaf. Chow, Baby’s to-go pizza – did it mention there’s a pizza oven in the middle of the restaurant? – suffered from a pick-up mix-up, so instead of the desired gamberetti (shrimp) and pesto (pesto) pie (12-inch, $9), it midnight-snacked on a delicious crispy-thin crust topped with some kind of cheese (probably gorgonzola; it’s very popular here), walnut pieces, and lots of fresh baby spinach. This changes everything. The pizza oven can stay.
Contact Chow, Baby at email@example.com.