I hope the folks who own Macaluso’s Italian Restaurant (2443 Forest Park Blvd.) have found a young and an old priest to exorcise whatever curse was put on that location. Since Le Chardonnay closed more than a decade ago, it’s been the spot where restaurants go to die. I’ve written about other restaurant sinkholes (Lift the Spell: Eat at Tie’s, Aug. 31, 2011), but the space that now houses the new Italian joint is one of the most notorious.
In the last several years, the pleasant Forest Park location has seen Pegasus Restaurant and Grady’s Restaurant bite the dust. The bad ju-ju even spread to nearby Ruffino’s, which closed last year. While the shelf life of a normal restaurant isn’t usually that long, four places shuttered in the last decade and a half seems like a lot of failure for one location.
I first hit the new Italian eatery in February and quickly decided it wasn’t ready for prime time. The service was spotty, and the food was bland. As for the décor, well …
It’s no mystery why so many restaurateurs have tried to make that location work. The open space is striking, with its multi-level seating and floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto a green slope. This time around, though, it seems like designers just ordered the “typical Italian Restaurant theme” out of a catalog.
Maybe service had improved in the last few months? Um, no. When I visited last week, my guest and I were seated promptly — and then we sat. And sat. Our table had apparently been used as a waitstaff storage station: A serving tray was propped in one chair, and a wine chiller sat empty beside another chair.
At one point a server stopped to ask us how we were doing, but didn’t stay long enough even to hear our answer. After 15 or 20 minutes, someone came, apologized, and took our order. Once our server figured out we were his table, the rest of the evening ran smoothly.
Chef Zeke Jusufi’s menu is unapologetically old-school and unexpectedly pricey. All of the usual Italian restaurant suspects make an appearance. We started with soggy mushrooms ($8.95), but the taste of the crab stuffing was drowned by “pink sauce,” a mixture of Alfredo and marinara sauces that was light on taste. We found out why when we tried the clam appetizer ($9.95). The clams tasted fresh, but they were served with more of the bland marinara.
Still looking for some good crab flavor, we ordered the crab-stuffed salmon entrée ($18.95). The fish might have been fresh and delicious, but who could tell? It was drenched, again, in pink sauce.
The biggest success of the night was the fettuccine with shrimp, crabmeat, tomato, garlic, and basil with a white wine sauce ($16.95). The flavors were balanced, the shrimp fresh, and — hey! — for the first time all evening, I could taste the crab.
While they work out the other (numerous) kinks in their operations, the folks at Macaluso’s might also want to try lifting that curse with a sacrifice. Maybe siphoning some of that pink sauce off the plates and sending it down the drain will satisfy the restaurant gods.
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