Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Practice your scales and your arpeggios

One of my favorite movies is The AristoCats. Being a budding musician at the time I saw it, and a burgeoning francophile as well, and of course a born cat-lover, I could think of no better film, save perhaps Oliver & Company (because I also love Billy Joel), to watch when I was a kid. I love the AristoCats so much that it is the only Disney movie I was suckered into purchasing back when they used to do limited releases of classic films on VHS (this was pre-ebay, of course).

Scales and arpeggios was the first song I learned to play on the piano. I even transposed it to guitar. As such, musical themes always reel me in, much like my friend G's suggestion that we visit Arpeggio, a newish bistro on H & Elvas, caught my fancy tonight. Unfortunately, I cannot give as rave reviews to the bistro as I would like. The space has been filled, intermittently, by the crepe place extraordinaire, Black Cat Cafe, then Brioche Bakery, and now Arpeggio, in the time that I have lived here. Brioche was open and gone before I could try it. I loved the Black Cat Cafe and was very disappointed to see it go. Despite its prime location as one of few restaurants in that part of town, I'm not certain of Arpeggio's staying power. Partly because this seems to be a difficult spot to stay afloat of late, but also because I was simply nonplussed this evening.

G and I arrived around 8:50pm and seated ourselves at the (dimly lit) bar. Nothing wrong with the lighting other than the disconcerting lack of transition from bar to open, airy, tuscan-inspired restaurant area. Not much in the way of continuity there, for some reason. It's a slightly awkward space, so that can easily be forgiven.

I've read some yelp reviews of this place, written when the restaurant was new, that were less than favorable. I wish I could attribute that to the newness of staff, but I am not sure that I can. We seated ourselves, grabbed menus from the bar, and were told by the server that we would be served momentarily. In my universe, that means something other than the sixth time you walk past me. Again, however, I could blame the awkward bar, rather than a lack of planning. Or, bad staffing. Which could certainly be the case.

However, we ordered drinks and food (small plates) from the server, and asked for water. We were given some panini with hummus to tide us over. After about 10 minutes, the owner came and took our orders again. I was confused, because the last time I ducked into Arpeggio for a to-go sandwich before heading to Tupelo for a marathon writing session (good portabello, btw), I was told a different gentleman was the owner. No biggie, as there could be several owners, for all I know.

After placing our orders a second time with the owner, we waited. We clarified our order again. We again requested water, and finally received it. I suppose it's not customary to automatically serve water in other parts of the world, but this is a hot dry place, and water should be mandatory after April 1st in these parts, if you ask me.

Our food arrived in two installments. We ordered a yellowtail appetizer served on a bed of pineapple and black beans. This was good. One or another of the owners brought it out for us, with small plates to facilitate our sharing. The server brought the stuffed mushrooms we ordered.

What are those gigantic, bland white mushrooms they sell in little blue cardboard bowls at the grocery store? I wanted the stuffed mushrooms to be excellent. I love mushrooms. They were served on a bed of spinach with what I suspect was Sriracha and some other sauces. The mushrooms would be vastly improved if some of this sauce were mixed in with the stuffing. Suffice it to say, I found the mushrooms disappointingly bland. And in my book, there is little worse than that.

On the bright side, I ordered a glass of the Sierra Vista Grenache, as I thought a Zinfandel would be too big, and a Syrah too bitter, for our meals, and I was pleasantly surprised. G also expressed appreciation for her Old Line Zin. Who knows, maybe I was being totally gauche and I don't get the mushrooms, or I ordered the wrong wine, or it's unreasonable of me to expect that I should only have to place my order once, not thrice. I really want to recommend Arpeggio, as I would like to have a nice restaurant close to the house to frequent. I will probably give it one more shot, and perhaps next time I'll go earlier, and order a full meal instead of small plates. But I shouldn't have to enumerate so many caveats to have a good time.

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