Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pallino Pastaria

Walk in the door and you will inevitably see a line in front of a really long counter that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant. They are making salads behind the counter and there is a big open cooler with drinks sitting on ice. It almost looks like you might be able to sit down and a waiter would show up at your table with menus but the line tells you otherwise so you fall in it. Above the  counter is a menu with soups, salads, pasta and pizza options. Like any restaurant where you order first and then find a table, you will look around to see if there is a table available. There are a lot of tables still open and there are usually different kinds of tables to choose from. You can grab a booth (large or small) or a traditional square table. There is a section on the side with even more room that is usually quieter and less populated than the main part of the restaurant. The line will go quickly and you barely have time to finish deciding what to get before you are up. You order and pay for your food. The person taking your order smiles at you and is friendly. They hand you your drinks and silverware on a cafeteria style tray along with a number so the waiter can deliver the rest of your food when it is ready.

If you have small kids you grab one of the 12 high chairs sitting by the door, an etch-a-sketch, a video game, crayons and paper. That is, unless all the games have all been claimed in which case you promise to find one sitting abandoned on a table, which sometimes you can't. When you sit down it feels like a real restaurant. It is not fancy but it doesn't feel like a fast food joint. Your kids will be loud but nobody will notice except the people who don't have kids who thought this place was a romantic Italian place where they should take their date. Try Cafe Lago. You start thinking about trucking the kids to the bathroom to wash their hands when you notice a small sink with soap and a step stool in the restaurant where they can wash their hands. It is amazing. It is true. It is convenient.  As soon as you get back to your table the food shows up. Except the waitress drops your pizza face down on the floor. She doesn't look embarrassed but apologizes profusely and promises to rush a replacement out.

In front of you (possibly minus the pizza) is placed a Caesar salad with or without chicken ($3.95 small, $5.95 large), penne with Anna's Sauce with or without meatballs, sausage, chicken, shrimp or salmon ($8.95 + $3 for a meat), a Margherita pizza ($5.99 small, $11.95 large) and a bambini cheese pizza that comes with a fruit skewer ($4.95). The Caesar salad is just another Caesar salad. It is not horrible but it really isn't anything to get excited about.  The dressing sits in the background, the lettuce is kind of, sort of fresh, the croutons are crunchy and there is a skinny long log of bread sitting on the salad. This bread shows up everywhere, on every dish except the pizza and gelato. It isn't good enough to be that prominent but it is another thing you can hand your kid that they can gnaw on. There is butter but they don't bring it to your table for some unknown reason. It sits up on the counter near where you ordered (but not close enough to notice) in a little bowl. The Anna's Sauce pasta is neutral. Your child will eat it as the flavor isn't super strong and it is functional. Since we aren't camping, it would be nice if the food was more than functional but that is about where it is. This dish has a tomato a based sauce with cream which just covers the noodles so if you are big on sauce you might be disappointed. If you are in the light sauce camp then you might be happier but either way you won't be ecstatic. The meatballs are soft (white bread mixed in?) and mild. The pizza is thin but not crisp. When you pick up a slice it hangs limp. The food looks better than it tastes which is kind of the general theme of the restaurant. Everything looks good but you feel like you are watching one reality while living a different one.

But while this food isn't anything to write home about but you are at the mall, your kids are happy and you almost feel like you are in a real restaurant. It is more than enough food for four people and the drinks are smartly served in cups with lids and straws. After dinner you get gelato and everyone leaves happy.
Pallino Pastaria (University Village) on Urbanspoon

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