Being the practical guy that I am, I made Valentine’s Day reservations for Sunday at Piatti, over in the Pavilions on Fair Oaks:

“You’d like reservations for Saturday?”

“No, Sunday.  What kind of person goes out to dinner on a Saturday night?”

“Well, sir, according to my reservation book, about half the population of Sacramento…”

Piatti has a low-key, pleasantly relaxed atmosphere:  families with kids, older foursomes, Arden Park-looking folks at the bar–I suspect this place sees more than its share of Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bags.  We showed up about 7pm for our 6:30 reservation, and were immediately shown to our table.  The hostess fixed the wobble without being asked and gave us menus. We then sat…for about ten minutes with no contact other than a busboy bringing us focaccia and dipping sauce (olive oil, vinegar, parsley, chili flakes, delicious)  No “how are you doing,” no water.  Nigh on unforgivable.

Once the server did show up, however, things went swimmingly.  Water comes in a lovely glass bottle labeled “Piatti,” but don’t worry–this isn’t Beverly Hills, and they don’t charge for it.

The wine showed up first, and our server had some difficulty opening it.  She was, however, able to come up with a story about how Italians use larger corks or some such, so I gave her credit for creativity.  The Super Tuscan was a good match for the starters of garbanzo bean soup (salty, beans cooked just right, but not a star) and carpaccio with spinach, capers, parmesan flakes and lemon juice.  I’d had the carpaccio at Spataro the week before, and this just wasn’t quite as good–the wow factor wasn’t there.

Our entrees arrived just as we finished our starters, and the server refilled our wine glasses, something my father and others would consider a mortal sin.  We conversed about it, and saved our ire as she had had enough trouble just getting the bottle open.

Again, the dishes were tasty and competent without that “zing” that makes you sit up  and take notice.  I had the gnocchi with chicken and pesto.  The dumplings were good, the chicken was tangy, and the pesto was fresh and zesty.  Across the table was pasta with mushrooms and chicken/prosciutto meatballs.  Very serviceable, and although we both claimed that we were really full and would probably just take some home for lunch tomorrow, somehow the bottom of the bottle coincided with clean plates for bofus.

I hesitate to call Piatti “serviceable” Italian food, because it’s more than that.  The ingredients are fresh, the presentation is just fine, and it all tastes good.  Perhaps the clue is in the ten lost minutes we had to begin our meal, which was, after all, only ten minutes.  Nonetheless, it was important–the devil may be in the details, but so is the difference between good and excellent.  Piatti is missing that little spark that makes for an excellent dining experience.

1 Comment so far

  1. cd (cndn) on February 19th, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    I’ve been to the Piatti in Mill Valley – but never made it to the one here. It’s always been "good enough" in my book, but never quite "good!" – just like you say.

    I’ve yet to find superlative Italian in Sacramento – which is INSANE considering the concentration of Italian immigrants and the Italian heritage in the area. I’ve also yet to visit Biba, however, and I hear good things, so I should give that a try before I write off the town completely.

    (What we lack in restaurants, however, we make up for in Italian markets – long live Corti Bros!)

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