Hit or Miss?
Sometimes it’s just not your day. And on a recent Friday night at the venerable On Broadway Ristorante Italiano, it wasn’t ours.
A dinner that looked to be a hit was instead at least a partial disappointment, marred by uneven service and hit-or-miss food. The high hopes we had beforehand were boosted the moment we walked in. Located at the south end of the Hulen Street shopping district, On Broadway is a simple strip-mall storefront cut into three distinct, intimate rooms. There are white tablecloths, comfortable booths and banquettes, and dim lighting. On the night of our visit, the place was packed, and the smell of fresh parmesan and roasted garlic wafted through the air. On top of that, the hostess was a real gem. She sat our group (two adults, a child, and a 17-month-old baby), helped us select a wine and even gave us a sample, on the house. She also made suggestions for appetizers and entrées that corresponded to the various ages in our little group. Then things began to unravel. We had to wait about 20 minutes for our order to be taken. No bread or water was brought to the table, and a lovely couple and their granddaughter who were seated a good 10 minutes after us were eating their appetizers before our order was even taken. We weren’t offended. Just a bit surprised. We asked a passing waitress for the hostess. Seeing that we had been neglected, she was quickly on the case. Within seconds, we had water, our wine, and a Shirley Temple. (The 10-year-old found it “exquisite.”)
The hostess also corralled a waiter, who apologized for the delay and got busy. Terrific garlic bread — along with a loaf of fluffy homemade, soft-crust house Italian bread — came immediately, but a lot of time passed before our food arrived. And when it did, it was almost as erratic in quality as the service. The asparagus tips and cheese wrapped in phyllo dough were a melt-in-your-mouth treat. But the portion was small — perhaps eight tips in all — and the plate they were served on was otherwise bare, making the little green-and-white delicacies look awfully tossed-off. I got the impression that someone in the kitchen didn’t have time to do them up properly. The mussels in a light marinara were equally delicious. The sauce was rich but not heavy, and the hefty, perfectly steamed mussels were chewy but soft. Unfortunately, as with the asparagus dish, there weren’t enough of them, perhaps six or seven in total. I would have been delighted to have eaten a dozen more and skipped everything else. The fried calamari, by comparison, was served in a portion so large it was nearly impossible for three of us to finish it. And we tried, because it was that good. Perfectly fried, dry and not the least bit greasy, the squid were accompanied by a thick, heavy, and nicely spiced dipping marinara, its zing a perfect complement to the buttery crisp of the rings. And then the worst sins were committed.
The menu says that each entrée comes with soup or salad, but our two main courses arrived sans soup, sans salad. (Maybe not too great a loss, however, since an On Broadway salad that one member of the group ordered a la carte was a disappointment. The menu promised artichoke hearts, Greek olives, mushrooms, tomato, and fresh avocado. Our dish, however, had hearts of palm instead of tomato — which was fine by me — and arrived naked. No dressing. Just the bottle of olive oil on the table. Worse, the artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, and olives all tasted as if they’d come out of a can, surprisingly flavorless.) Perhaps the two waiters who were jointly attending to us each thought the other had taken care of our soups and salads. Whatever the reason, if something’s on the menu, it ought to be on the table.
The capellini Bolognese came out as spaghetti Bolognese — we would have complained, but we were too tired to risk waiting another half-hour and so just shut up and ate. The gravy was OK, but it wasn’t half as tasty as the gravies that accompanied the mussels and calamari. And the grilled tenderloin didn’t come out black and pink, like I asked. Moreover, while the meat was excellent, it was completely bereft of any sort of seasoning, leaving Mr. Salt and Mr. Pepper to save the day. Equally bland were a medley of steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, and a half of a grilled Roma tomato topped with a touch of parmesan. The cappuccino pie was splendid and refreshing, as was the 2005 Blackstone Merlot. On Broadway Ristorante Italiano has been in business since 1987. If it weren’t good, it wouldn’t have made it 20 years. It also wouldn’t have been as full on an early Friday evening as it was when we visited. I can only assume that the stars simply weren’t aligned in our favor.
On Broadway Ristorante Italiano Asparagus tips $8.99 Mussels in marinara sauce $8.99 Capellini Bolognese $12.99 Grilled tenderloin $27.99