Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I am not a very good restaurant critic

Today I had a late lunch/early dinner at La Grolla, a pleasant, unfussy Italian place down by the St. Paul Cathedral. Accompanying me were two of the most fabulous mental-health nurses in the entire upper Midwest, Molly and Nicole. Since we were there at an off-time on an off-day, we had the place to ourselves for pretty much our entire visit. This might have been fortunate for the restaurant owners, as the conversation topics favored by off-duty mental health nurses tend to revolve around things that other diners might find distasteful. For instance, there was reminiscing about the time an angry psychotic patient filled the hospital coffeemaker with his own feces and it took a few hours before anyone noticed the peculiar “shit” flavor to that day’s blend. Also discussed was the case of the disturbed young man who masturbated whenever he got angry, making those charged with his care quite reluctant to help him make his bed in the morning.

These delightful anecdotes were enhanced immeasurably by the fine food La Grolla provided. I got the fettuccini alfredo and it was wonderful, even though there was perhaps a little too much of it. Still, it was rich and flavorful and certainly worth ordering just from a cost-benefit standpoint: it was only $7.95 and I’m still full seven-and-a-half hours later. Nicole got the gnocchi special and spoke kindly about it in the intervals when we weren’t talking about rudely released body fluids or the kinds of breasts men prefer. Molly liked hers too, but I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of what she got. It had a sort of pinkish sauce to it, though. It certainly looked really good, and I’m not the sort of guy who enjoys food in pink sauces.

As for wine, Nicole and I split a bottle of some sort of Cabernet Sauvignon while Molly had a glass of Merlot. I’m not sure of the brand or vintage of either because–let’s face it–I’m a lousy goddamn restaurant reviewer and I don’t know jack shit about any of this stuff. I’ll just say that our wine was very wine-like and quite red in color, while Molly’s was equally red and at least of an equivalent “winey-ness” to ours. This is largely a guess based on her comments and my own subsequent subjective interpretations, though. I certainly didn’t drink her wine. That would have been totally rude. I had my own, after all. I’m not one of these winos who swills down everyone else’s drink when they’re not looking. No, no: of course not. I am a gentleman. A gentleman who knows more about proper positioning of commas than he does about wine.

But back to the business at hand. Our server “Vince” was very good. Not only was he helpful with recommendations, he pronounced the Italian names of our dishes with flair and verve. Also, he laughed at our jokes, which shows–at the very least–a tolerant spirit. The decor of the place met with my approval as well. It was well-decorated, but low-key. So many mid-priced Italian restaurants try to beat you over the head with their “Italian-ness”, I feel. This place doesn’t do that. It’s understated and homey. And, as the sun started to go down, I noticed that the lighting was dim and romantic. This is good. Dim and romantic light usually shows off my hair to good effect.

But, of course, all pleasant afternoons must come to an end. Our meal wasn’t cheap, but since it wasn’t my turn to pay, I didn’t get too bothered by this. From what I could see of the bill, it seemed like they charged a fair amount for the services they provided. The prices were, as far as I could tell, equivalent to those at the Olive Gardens and Maggianos and Macaroni Grills that infest the suburbs.

So, in summation, La Grolla is a very good restaurant, so you should go there as often as possible. Get the fettuccini alfredo or get something else, you’ll probably like it. But, if you don’t, please don’t come crying to me. Because, if you hadn’t already noticed, I’ve got no business reviewing restaurants.