Well Lady's promise to never indulge in tasting menus again ended recently, but I think she was on to something. Let me first say this. I am not willing to write off this well-known, and in some circles, beloved Italian eatery, but I am pretty certain I will never do the Chef Duke "Feed Me" again.
Sat in the bar at Cafe Giovanni as we were early for our reservation. Had a drink and relaxed. The bar is dark and quiet; the main dining room is the complete opposite. Overly lit and full of noisy opera music. Some people really enjoy the opera singers, not me. I don't get it, I would not go to the Opera and expect to be fed.
Ok, so a glance at the menu revealed traditional New Orleans Italian Favorites. We had already decided to do the tasting menu and wine pairings, so quick decision. First course arrives with a prosecco. Oysters Giovanni; fried oysters set atop a plate with 5, count them 5, different sauces arranged in what our waiter called "the Stained Glass of Sauces". Not sure what the hell that does except muddle all the sauces together and produce a confusing flavor. It looked pretty but beauty without usefulness is a waste. But the oysters were fried perfectly.
Next, a caprese salad with a pinot grigio. Great, I love this salad. Unfortunately, this salad was topped with about a quarter pound of crabmeat that was way over dressed with a spicy mayo. Without being able to guarantee that I am correct, I am certain this dish was made hours ahead of time and then left to sit in a fridge. So, the tomato and mozzarella were rigid and absolutely flavorless. Ohh well.
Ok, now the best dish of the night. Simple ravioli topped with a lamb, pork, and beef ragu. This is why I came here. I had heard about the simple, unpretentious Italian food served, finally a glimpse of it. And then it was gone as elusive as the double rainbow.
Blackened Shrimp with Blackened Amberjack and dirty rice. What the hell is this doing here? Did the Flux Capacitor send us to Lafayette? Completely overloaded the spice level to a point of disgust.
Next a supplementary course. Our waiter could tell we were not yet pleased with the offerings so a big, beautiful, sensual bowl of mussels marinara was brought out. Great flavors, perfectly executed. The briny flavor of the mussels combined with the acidic, sweet tomatoes to create a flavor profile not unlike puttanesca sauce in one's mouth. Again, I wish the whole tasting menu would have been dishes like this and the ravioli.
Last savory course. Beef filet with spinach over mashed potatoes and fried leeks. Ok, sounds good in theory; but in execution completely flawed. Had I been a cow, chewing the leeks would have been easier. The spinach was heavily, too heavily, doused with Sambuca or another anise flavored liquor before service, leaving an almost astringent taste to the dish. Meat and mashed potatoes were good, until the Sambuca laced spinach infected the dish like a troubled kid in a new high school.
Tiramisu for dessert. Good but nothing to write about (I realize that I just wrote about it). The wines were also very basic and boring. Which I would not have had a problem with save they charged about $9 per glass for a 2 ounce pour from essentially the Cavit Collection.
All in all, we had a good night and were more just excited to have a night out together rather than be blown away by the food. The service was great and picked up on our clues, if I go back I will stick to the pasta dishes and Italian classics. It really was not until after we left and over the last few days, that I have been able to make sense of that meal enough to evaluate it. For what we spent we could have done the 11 course tasting menu at August again.
Tasting menus have jumped the shark for two reasons. First, they are incredibly faddish. Second, I know what I like to eat. Going to eat at a restaurant is a duel. A diner sees something on a menu the chef has put there to tempt a diner. The diner orders it and the cooks must execute the dish. Thats enough interplay between the kitchen and diner to satisfy me. When every kitchen in every restaurant can master that, I will be ready to order another tasting menu to test the creativity of the kitchen.
Bogey for the restaurant-Double Bogey for the Feed Me.