I Trulli a Dissapointment

by Jason Roth on July 25, 2010

I Trulli on E. 27th St. is one of those Italian restaurants I seem to hear about all the time, but have never actually had the chance to try for myself . A friend was in town from the Netherlands, and I consider his taste in food to be sort of “upscale meat and potatoes”: nothing super fancy, but nothing boring and mediocre. Italian made sense, and being restaurant week, maybe we could go a little higher end without being ridiculous.

But first, let me say something about restaurant week. (Now extended through September 6th, so it might be called “Economy Sucks, Customers on Vacation, Trying Our Damnedest to Meet Payroll Month”.)  I have mixed feelings about restaurant week, both in terms of whether I should actually go to restaurants at this time and whether I should judge them by the same standards. The answer I’ve finally come to is: yes, and yes.

Ever since having a rushed and mediocre meal at Blue Water Grill during a restaurant week lunch several years ago, I’ve assumed that restaurants can get overwhelmed by unexpected traffic and not be prepared to provide the same level of service as on a typical day. But this is a cop-out and it’s giving unknown restaurants much undeserved slack. (I had never even eaten at Blue Water Grill before and still gave them the slack.) This view began to change last year with a single meal. Ilili, just two and a half blocks from I Trulli, was able to provide a delicious meal with friendly and competent service. They proved it could be done. And I’ve been back since.

But while sitting in the crowded, absurdly noisy dining room of I Trulli (an investment in carpeting would help), it occurred to me that it’s not like a restaurant adds extra tables during restaurant week. Presumably, they (a) have the staff to handle their tables, and (b) they’ve been fully booked before prior to restaurant week. If they can’t handle that many tables, it’s their own damn fault for participating in restaurant week and/or they have too many tables. Still, apart from a sommelier who promised to help us then never returned, I think I Trulli was capable of handling the number of customers. So for two reasons, that I Trulli was capable of handling the customers, and that they should be capable of it, I think it’s perfectly fair to judge them by my usual standards.

My friend and I both started with a fried squash blossom appetizer stuffed with ricotta. It was well cooked and right out of the fryer (further evidence that I Trulli was not overwhelmed by the crowd), but drenched in batter. Presumably it was a fresh, seasonal, squash blossom, so why hide this fact? Even if it were last summer’s squash, I would’ve enjoyed tasting it. It also suffered from a dominance of saltiness, not helped by an anchovy dressing. There’s a reason the Brits like vinegar with their fish and chips. I also would have liked an acid. With the vegetable overwhelmed by batter and cheese, essentially I was served a fried cheese stick. So where was the marinara?

Normally, I don’t complain about bread and butter. Bread before a meal is usually either average or noteworthy, edible but forgettable and neither adding nor subtracting to a meal, or a surprising stand-out. I Trulli’s focaccia, with its good amount of sun-dried tomatoes (meaning, not too many) was solid and could have been a stand-out. But then someone in the kitchen tried to be creative. A dish of seasoned ricotta (or ricotta butter?) replaced the standard butter or olive oil as its condiment. The result was a solid B for effort and B- for taste. Just too dry, especially when the bread is a focaccia. Had they given me a bottle of store-bought olive oil instead, I wouldn’t be complaining right now.

After working against the appetizer, salt saved the cavatelli. With almonds and broccoli rabe, it was an average dish, not a great one. Which brings me to my main problem with this restaurant, not counting the semi-audible nature of my dinner conversation. The prices are laughably out of proportion. $24 bowls of pasta and $28-average secondi plates?

A restaurant gives me average during its restaurant week promotion, a promotion that aims to gain new customers, and then expects me to come back and pay $24 for ravioli with tomatoes and basil? They better extend restaurant week a long, long time. Their market must be the rich and stupid, and in this economy, the stupid aren’t as rich as they used to be.

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