Food 101 

A note to the owners of Paravicini

Nothing would please me more than to have a neighborhood bistro on the West Side in a space small and inviting, staffed with responsive, attentive folks serving a menu of simple yet impeccably prepared dishes. All things would indicate that Paravicini would fit the bill. And it might with a few improvements. I offer some suggestions that might take Paravicini beyond the standards set by the chef's and owner's previous establishment, Buca de Beppo:

1. Train the staff. They're a good-looking bunch of young people who may not have lived long enough to know about things like not filling a wine glass to the rim, not hollering to a table as you walk toward it, or not spearing two dinner forks into a plate of pasta after you've placed it in front of a diner. The only art in inquiring how everything is to ask it as if you mean it and not mumble, as one young waiter did, "How does everything look?" On the other hand, maybe he knew something we didn't (but would soon learn).

2. Quit taking shortcuts in preparation. Bruschetta is not typically made from a loaf of bread sliced horizontally. It's better when the garlic is rubbed onto the bread, not chopped and sprinkled with the toppings. Most importantly, bruschetta is never microwaved. Maybe this was an emergency measure when our waiter realized he hadn't ordered our appetizer and ran in panic to the chef (and thus demonstrated a disadvantage of an open kitchen). Our first course was minutes away from being plated; he had to do something. See Item 1 above: Teach your staff that a sincere apology and a desire to make things right is the best way to proceed when mistakes are made (as they will be).

Use better greens than just a bargain Bag O' Lettuce for the house salad. Don't serve it with two dinner forks speared in as serving utensils. (See a pattern here?)

Bolognese sauce generally has ground beef, veal or sausage meat in it, and not a meatball adrift in marinara.

Of course, it's easier to make Eggplant Parmigiana like a large lasagna and serve perfectly cut little squares of it topped with a tasty marinara sauce. But eggplant in the best of circumstances tends toward mushiness; hence the importance of a good breading and a quick hot cooking. It doesn't lend itself to advance preparation.

Lastly, garlic is an infusion, not a garnish. In several dishes we tried, like the Chicken Valeria, some bites were redolent with garlic; other mouthfuls had no garlic flavor at all.

3. Quit cutting corners on ingredients. Match the generous sizes of your portions with quality ingredients. Get better bread. Even Subway bread is better than what you're currently serving. You're a few blocks from La Baguette, a mile or two from Breadheads. Diners will come just for the bread (especially if all the wait staff offer freshly ground pepper for the dipping oil) and a glass of wine from that nice little wine list.

Fresh mushrooms are always preferred, especially in the Chicken and Veal Marsala. Pound the veal and chicken a little more to tenderize. Don't be afraid to season with a little salt.

I'm not sure what to suggest about the risotto. One with tomatoes and basil was good; one with four cheeses was not good (soupy rather than creamy). More practice?

What, then, will the future hold for this latest effort in the building that has housed Blue Star and Old City? Though Caf Giovanna and Trattoria d'Angela are examples of fine, locally-owned Italian restaurants, most Italian restaurants in town are chains offering neither surprises nor significant disappointments. Paravicini's menu is of this ilk, more southern Italian than Caf Giovanna, for example, and less interesting. The dinner menu offers 10 pasta dishes, seven chicken dishes, veal, swordfish and steak. Most of these dishes are available at lunch in addition to several sandwiches. That the meatball grinder and the Parmesan crusted chicken sandwich were particularly tasty on properly toasted bread indicates that if done well, these traditional dishes should satisfy if not delight. I hope that with time and seasoning Paravicini becomes a neighborhood bistro worth frequenting.


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