Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Lunch Series Part 9: Trattoria Il Panino

Friday came quick this week! For lunch today I was sticking close to home. I had my eyes dilated earlier this morning and my vision was still a little funky.
Trattoria il Panino, located at 11 Parmenter Street, is one of those spots I walk by often, lusting over the spacious tables on the sun drenched patio and salivating over the plates full of thick creamy pastas. I know, shocker that here in Little Italy everyone was eating a plate full of pasta. Well they looked good to say the least and I always kept this restaurant titled "Boston's First Original Trattoria" in the back of my mind. Today, a comforting plate of pasta was just what I craved. As I approached the patio and stood in front of the host, in an awkward moment I had to greet him. "Hello are you the host?"
"Yes."
"Can I have a table?"
"Alone?!" he questioned in a completely surprised at the same time sympathetic I-feel-so-sorry for-you-why-the-heck-are-you-eating-alone tone. "Oh noooo Bella" he echoed in a heavy Italian accent under his breath. I proclaimed proudly that it was my day off and that I liked eating alone. No need to feel sorry for me or question my decisions. Your job is to act polite and seat me. I don't mean to sound like that person, but you'd be surprised the tone it sets when the host or hostess greets you warmly with a big smile, versus questioning whether or not you have friends. I know that he genuinely didn't mean anything by it, and I am probably reading way to much into it right now but it just felt a little unprofessional. It felt off.
I was handed a food menu, but no wine or cocktail list. I sat for awhile before I was greeted by my waiter, who seemed a little frazzled. He introduced himself as Hector. The outdoor seating area was completely packed. I took notice of about half a dozen other waitstaff bustling about. Hector took the time to explain the specials, his thick Italian accent pouring out at rapid speed. I wasn't concerned with specials because I already had plenty of opportunity to ponder over the menu, which looked fairly traditional and seemed in line with the Trattoria's theme of Mediterranean Cuisine of the Amalfi Coast.

Before Hector could scurry off, I requested a wine list. It is the simplest of things that when done right, that can make all the difference in the world. I am beginning to realize this as I dine out more and more. I just expect to be handed a drink menu with my food menu as I am seated, or handed it at least without having to ask.
Alright friends, now here's the kicker. In all my years of eating and drinking out in Boston, never have I ever encountered this scenario.
Hector: "Can I get you a bottle of water?"
Daisy thinks: Why is he trying to upsell me? Why don't I get a choice, bottle or tap? This is rather annoying.
Daisy responds: "No thanks, tap will be fine."
Hector: "Oh no Bella, we don't have tap."
Daisy thinks: I live down the street. I drink the tap water on a daily basis. I'm not a tourist you are fooling into thinking the city water is unsuitable for drinking.
Daisy responds: "Um ok sure, I'll take the bottle."
Daisy thinks: It's way too hot out here to endure lunch without water.
Hector: "I get you a small bottle."
Daisy thinks: Damn right you'll get me a small bottle.
I was caught completely off guard and I'm sure the look on my face didn't hide my dismay. In my head the sounds of a cash register rang loud cha-ching, cha-ching as I wondered how much this bottle was going to set me back.
I'm a glass half full kinda person. So at this point I'm thinking - at least the authentic Italian mineral water in that shiny green glass bottle adds character to my pictures.
I'm over the water and I'm marveling at the bread basket accompanied by a small bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was delightfully fresh and tasted like it had been baked in house that morning and it was evident that they served high quality olive oil. To drink I decided on a glass of Sauvignon Blanc ($9). They were out of this wine, so I chose the Chardonnay ($9). All of their wines by the glass cost $9. They offered no Prosecco by the glass which was slightly disappointing because I was more than willing to consider a glass of bubbly this afternoon. I ate two slices of bread and read The Reality Pool (tables definitely looked over when I couldn't hold in my laughter) on my iPhone before Hector returned to take my order. "No appetizer for you today Bella?" Really Hector, are you trying to upsell me again? I understand this is a rather normal inquiry, but here I am, questioning the integrity of my waiter. My lunch was served rather quickly, compared to the untimely wait sessions in between ordering.
The Linguine Alle Vongole Macciato ($18.95) with Littleneck clams and a touch of San Marzano tomatoes presented me with a striking plate of food where not a strand of linguine was out of place. The pasta was well prepared, the sauce was intensely flavorful and the clams offered a natural briny essence. The touch of sweet fleshy San Marzano tomatoes were just right. A small handful of fresh basil sprinkled on top completed the dish. Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than a traditional plate of food. I felt like I was that girl in Eat.Pray.Love for a minute. I read the book along time ago, but didn't she wander around Italy eating nothing but plate fulls of pasta at Italian Trattorias? I could totally be her! I could run off to Italy and do this for a living. Sigh. I suppose when someone beats you too it, writes a book, and creates an empire around it, including a major motion picture, the idea sounds a bit contrived. But on a happier note, the fact that Il Panino literally transported me to Italy in these moments speaks volumes. Yes, it was first and foremost this incredible pasta and shellfish dish. But it was more than that. Every element including the dark haired and skinned Italian waitstaff, to the intimate outdoor setting, to the cigarette smoke wafting through the air from the two women who sat on the bench below...
I have never been to Italy, but the Amalfi Coast, Rome, as well as the island of Capri are at the top of my Wanderlist. Every single one of the tables was full of foursomes when I arrived; suburbanite families with small children and various couples and friends of all ages. It was about 3:00 at this point, so the lunch rush cleared out completely. Around now, a middle aged man, then a few minutes later an elderly woman arrived to dine alone. See Mr. Host, I'm not the only one who enjoys my own company. And now I really have to laugh, because here is where Hector got me. He offered dessert, sans the delivery of a dessert menu.
Hector: "Bella some sorbetto for you? It's delicious and it comes in a little fruit - a lemon, and orange or a pineapple!!"

Daisy thinks: Lunch was so incredible. For the good of the blog community, I'll do it.
Daisy responds: "Sure, that sounds really good. I'll go with the pineapple"
He sold me. He described the sorbetto in the fruit, and I had to have it!
That was a really good decision by me. A really really good decision.After a lunch in the hot sun, this treat which cost $7.95 cooled me right off. It was creamy, icy, and refreshing. I savored every last spoonful from that pineapple half. I was not able to finish my entire plate of pasta, however, so when Hector cleared my plate along with the bread basket, I requested he add the bread I didn't consume in with my to-go bag. I thought that was a very reasonable request. After all, they were just going to throw it away, right?
Hector: "Oh yes Bella, in fact, I'll throw some fresh bread in their for you!"
BELLA thinks: Wow that is incredibly generous of him. I just wanted my bread that I didn't finish, but if he insists....I first and often embrace the positive qualities in whomever I encounter. I believe Hector was a good guy. He smiled brightly the entire time. He was overly friendly. He missed a few beats. I appreciated his enthusiasm, but at the same time, the charm could have been turned down a notch or two or ten. The pep in his step (i.e. it took way to long for him to clear my plate after it was obvious I was done eating) could have been dialed up a notch.

"CHAO BELLA" echoed throughout the restaurant as I made my grand exit.

If someone doesn't call me Bella ever again, I probably wouldn't mind.

To my bewilderment and disappointment, when I went to heat my pasta up for dinner, there was no bread in my to-go bag.
Trattoria Il Panino has a lot going for them, but they certainly are not the entire package. For a casual dining spot, I thought it was overpriced. The spotty service and the tactics used to make an extra buck were unappreciated. (My water cost $3.95). The intimate outdoor setting and the incredible authentic Mediterranean Italian dishes saved them. I'll take a seat in the sun and plate of pasta and shellfish that good any day of the week.
Trattoria Il Panino on Urbanspoon

15 comments:

Melissa said...

The sorbetto in the fruit is so clever!!

Megan said...

This whole lunch story was so entertaining! Thanks for sharing. I can't believe you didn't have any bread when you got home. And even though your review is up and down, I think I might need to go there for the pineapple dessert.

shari @ little blue deer said...

Hi Bella! ;) Yup, sounds like they missed on several counts. I can't stand when you eat alone and they treat you like a loser. Uh, come on, some of us don't mind it at all. Also, nothing infuriates me more than the upsell. We dined not too long ago in a restaurant at the Telfair Museum here (we sell them their coffee, actually), and okay, seeing as it's in a museum it's definitely a tourist trap, but we had sandwiches and the server said "and pasta salad for the side?" and we both said yes. Assuming that it came with, just the way she said it. Well, that was a $5.95 side of pasta salad each. Quite irritating, if you're a la carte make that clear, I hate slimy tactics, too. Enjoyed this post, Daisy, felt like I was there!

Ameena said...

Your food looks fantastic and I totally admire you for dining on your own. I think that is awesome.

But Hector...well he needs a couple of lessons on how not to annoy someone. I think I would have left when he said that they didn't have tap water. That is probably the most annoying thing ever. I have little patience for the upsell. I have little patience in general but especially for the upsell!

That being said, I paid $2.75 for a tiny bottle of Perrier this week so your water wasn't too terribly overpriced!

MelissaNibbles said...

Bella,
Hector is a pain in the ass, he's lucky the food makes up for it.
In Italy it's quite common for women to dine alone so he needs to get his head out of @ss.
The pineapple sorbet is genius!

The Small Boston Kitchen said...

I'm with you, I love eating out alone and do it pretty often and totally don't understand the stigma.

That dessert looks absolutely delicious by the way! Glad that despite some mishaps, you still enjoyed your afternoon!

Gretchen said...

I totally would have walked out if they refused to give me tap water! But, I've actually been to Italian restaurants that refuse to give you parmesan cheese on a seafood pasta dish, because they think the parmesan overpowers the delicate seafood. So maybe Hector was on his game with that one! Or he just forgot.

Corinne said...

ohhh belllaa!! NO bread?! slimy slimy. At least the food was INCREDIBLE. That frozen pinapple is absolutely devine. PS Your pictures of this afternoon are incredible :) Can't put a price on solid pics...oh wait, yes you can since you need to get your camera fixed. ha. xo

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Another funny and engageing post. The clam dish really looked good. Love the presentation of the sorbet.

Interesting read.

Becca said...

I've never heard of this place or noticed it in my Boston travels. The pasta looks exceptional, you have me drooling just thinking about it. BUT I'm still stuck on the water thing - I can't believe he pretended you couldn't have tap water. I've worked in a restaurant before, and I understand trying to go for the upsell, but that is rediculous!

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

Maybe you ate alone but the way you described everything made me feel like I was there with you! Great post and sorry for the upsell. This happens to me ALL the time in cabs when people try to take me the longest routes possible in the city.

Jammer said...

That pineapple is awesome!

http://jammer10am.blogspot.com/

Jen said...

Dude, I am annoyed at the waitstaff for you.

But that pineapple sorbet (okay, and the wine) looks incredible!! Love the presentation!

Lizzy said...

Seriously Daisy you are such an incredible writer! I felt like I was at the restaurant with you. Maybe you should get a job as a restaurant critic- a girl can dream. Sounds like a frustrating yet rewarding (good food) experience. Good service is always amazing and truly makes dining so much more enjoyable. Sad about no bread in your to-go box. Great post- Chao Bella... oh wait you didn't want to hear that again! : )

Café Bellini said...

Oh no, no bread! I always drink sparkling mineral water. Did yours at least TASTE GOOD?! and better than tap water? :-)