Cafe Reviews

Jan Session

Page 2 of 3

The soup is a warming segue to another winner: D'Atri's signature garbage salad, a bed of romaine overstuffed with thin rounds of peppery sausage, splinters of chicken breast, Roma tomato, caramelized onion, celery, bowtie pasta, grilled green pepper, feta, provolone, Swiss and mozzarella tossed with olive oil and Parmesan. Antipasto salad is another meaty feast, packed with curls of provolone, cappicola, turkey, peppered salami, ham, pastrami, Swiss, mozzarella, grated Parmesan, chopped red pepper and romaine in creamy Italian dressing. At $8.50, these greens ain't cheap, but if evaluated on a protein-per-pound basis, they're a bargain.

A garbage pizza, meanwhile, is more restrained, topping puffy, wood-oven crust with kicky sausage, chicken breast, green pepper, mushrooms, white onion curls and just a little bit of sauce.

Panini -- served at breakfast and lunch -- are decadent deals, ringing in at $7.25 and under. Panini are an increasingly well-known version of grilled sandwiches -- think of a waffle press laid with vegetables, the veggies then taken with meat and cheese and stuffed between thick bread rounds, and stuck again on the grill to be pressed flat. D'Atri's serves up eight versions, including an excellent deli model stuffed with salami, ham, pastrami and mozzarella. Ham and Swiss is a step above ordinary, too, with meat that's been cut off a real ham, not that processed stuff, and paired with chopped, grilled green peppers, onion and mushrooms, plus a surprise appearance by cream cheese. And fresh-off-the-bird turkey breast elevates a basic sandwich to a delight, roasted and partnered with provolone, mozzarella, feta, mushrooms and caramelized onion.

D'Atri's sausage stars in several sandwiches, including a breakfast panini stuffed with eggs and cheese. It's also in a lunch panini that brings a thin patty with cream cheese and lots of heat-packing red pepper seeds. But the best of the bunch is the straightforward sausage sandwich, a hunger stomper showcasing the zesty meat with traditional peppers and onions.

The panini come with a choice of sides: garden, potato or pasta salad. Go for the potato salad, one of the finest versions of the simple spud dish to be found in the Valley. Chalk up the thrill to a creamy base that's rich with egg tones, and an extra kick of finely chopped black olive, celery, red pepper and fresh parsley. Pasta salad, on the other hand, is unreliable -- sometimes it's tangy, other times, the oil dressing is flat, lying listless on a bed of bowtie noodles tossed with chopped red pepper, celery, black olive, Parmesan and black pepper.

And when was the last time you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It probably wasn't as good as this wonderfully sticky mess. Don't shy away from the $4.95 price -- there's value in the massive, triple-decker combo of thick white bread generously spread with chunky peanut butter and homemade apricot jam. Bonus: whole peanuts are mixed in for over-the-top crunch.

It's hard to go wrong with D'Atri's pasta -- anchored by homemade noodles and stunning sauces. Marinara, in particular, is such a symphony of acidic tomato it could make even the standard mystery meals served on commercial flights delicious. Spaghetti topped with two meatballs is quality comfort food, and a combo unites ricotta-stuffed ravioli; beef ravioli; very sweet, soft potato and spinach gnocchi; plus a dainty portion of sausage. Lasagna, too, is a happy blending of sausage and ricotta stuffing, the pasta sheets swimming under a lush meat sauce.

Desserts are worth every penny. A confetti pie, in fact, is an entire pie, almost like a lattice-crust potpie stuffed with fresh peach, apple, and blueberry. The jumbo portion is served with a side of vanilla bean ice cream drizzled with chocolate.

Let the terminal-locked travelers focus on the fancy entrees -- this is where the pricing makes me feel as if I'm financing D'Atri's personal jet. A spinach appetizer brings a pleasingly cheesy glop of fresh spinach and artichoke hearts in a small bread bowl, but there's hardly enough of the dip to command $9. Veal scallopine is outright boring, hued with a slightly burned aftertaste and sided with bland grilled baby carrots, zucchini and white rice. Parmigiano style, in this case, means nothing more than a drape of mozzarella dusted with paprika. And there are many other places to get okay wood-fired rosemary chicken or everyday grilled pork chops for less than $18.95.

There's turbulence to be worked out, as well. Some mistakes crop up on our old favorites, in a manner I'd never have expected at the former cafe. At Paradiso, chicken soup was stellar; here it shows up as a weak broth, floating with pimply poultry skin, fat rice, carrot, celery and just a few meager chads of meat. A burger is overcooked, and chips are burned to a crisp. Gone, too, is the charming takeout packaging -- instead of being hand-wrapped in butcher paper, sandwiches now slide around in Styrofoam boxes.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet