Tuesday, October 03, 2006

from the desk of the reluctant food critic: so what is it that you want to see in a good restaurant?

Me, I want food that is fresh and honest (shh! I borrow the phrase from an eatery out east that calls itself exactly that). Regional seasonal rocks, except in Madison Wisconsin in January, when you really have to bend the rules a little.

I want the restaurant to be the kind of place where I go not only to celebrate the big ones – births, deaths and promotions – but also the little things, like: I don’t want to cook tonight, I want someone to put a plate of decent food under my nose.

And if I am going to be a regular, I want my napkin to be hung on a hook reserved for me. Meaning, I want to be recognized. Hi Nina! Good to see you again! How’s your mother, still telling you you’re a worthless specimen? And your first year law students – perfect in your eyes?

Yes, yes, thank you for asking.

So the place needs to be reasonably small.

Finally, the menu items have to be such that I would not normally make the stuff myself. I mean, risotto with tomatoes. Perfectly done. Forget it, I like my own.

Madison is now home to a place that meets my needs – Osteria Papavero.

october 06 047

I met the chef last night, not because I am special and important to him but because I was there and he was there and meeting patrons is what he does. We chatted. He does not know (yet) that I like my torts class and that my mother thinks I am somewhere beneath worthless. But he knows about my love of Italy and my intent to return there. Real soon (see sidebar).

But apart from my need to connect, there is, remember, the need to eat good food. Papavero’s is great – all about ingredients. The chef is a recent transplant from the kitchens of Bologna. Come on! They know how to cook in Bologna!

No complaints? That’s right, none. I have heard others say that the portions are too small. Okay, but I had fish in a brothy sauce with olives and tomatoes and baby potatoes -- $11. That was at the high end of things.

You want more food? Add an antipasto. Or, one of the desserts. Or, ask for more bread. Or go on a diet. Or remember to eat regular meals. Then go have yourself a Papavero’s meal. What a treat!