Saturday, August 30, 2008

FOOD CZAR REVIEW #32: ISABELLA'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Finally, we get to enjoy Restaurant Week! Well, it's still officially called Restaurant Week, although so many places are extending the three-course-meal-for-$35 deal, I guess it should now be properly called Restaurant Month. In any case, the first part of the month, my lovely wife The Rock Star was on tour in North Carolina (where she wowed 'em, as always), then later on when she came home we both got sick and had to trade white linen for Styrofoam takeout. Well, last night after numerous made-and-canceled reservations through the Open Table system (http://www.opentable.com/; you should try it, they are very convenient), we finally were able to saddle up the ponies and head north to a place that has been reviewed by both Zagat and D Magazine, with D Magazine naming it a Best Neighborhood Restaurant earlier this year.

ATMOSPHERE

The website (http://www.isabellasfrisco.com/) reports that upon arrival, "guests get the sense that they are arriving at a private estate. " That is true, particularly when you consider that like many private estates, Isabella's Italian Restaurant can be a little tricky to find. (Hint: It's behind Silver Fox Steakhouse, immediately to the left of the fountain.) The front entrance may be a mystery as well; the sign in the parking lot does not point to the entrance, but to the back of the restaurant. A little daunting at first, but press on and you will find it. The interior is very clean and warm, with tangerine-colored curtains and original artwork on the walls. Good mix of customers. Very elegant and unstuffy. Neighborhood upscale. My kind of place. We were seated by the window with a view of the fountain and the efficient Nick soon presented us with menus and wine lists. (You know you are in an upscale establishment when you don't have to ask for the wine list.) We scanned the abbreviated Restaurant Week menu and made our selections rather quickly.

FOOD

Note to other RW-participating establishments: Please offer optional wine pairings with your repasts, as Isabella does. That way, food and wine can be enjoyed together, just as the chef intended. Isabella's is a wine-friendly establishment: Markup is very low, and they even feature a section entitled "25 @ $25," a very enticing price point indeed. My bride's meal began with the Insalata Mista di Campo, a house salad with a mixture of mesclun greens, Roma tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette. Very good, but I think she prefers her beloved raspberry walnut vinaigrette that she usually enjoys. She really enjoyed the well-balanced sauvignon blanc, proving that our decision to go with wine pairings instead of a single bottle was the correct one. My own salad was the arugula, tomatoes, and Gouda cheese with pancetta red wine vinaigrette. You must eat the Gouda for the salad to work together properly, as the buttery flavor of the cheese adds the proper note of spice to the mix, and the fruity Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio tied the whole thing together very well. I almost forgot that complementary focaccia bread is served with two kinds of olive oil, a regular extra-virgin, and one with an orange spice that tasted surprisingly of peppers and cilantro. Very nice, and we requested more. The kitchen was out of the sea bass, but my wife was really pleased with the Pecan-Crusted Mahi Mahi with risotto they brought instead. (She's from Texas, so she loves pecans. That's how it works, people.) The Hawaiian fish brought just a kiss of fishiness (not unpleasant) before melting into a clean finish. They served a chardonnay/sauvignon blanc blend with her entree; luckily, it was not overly oaky. (Over-oaked chards are the bane of our existence.) I raved about my Colorado Lamb Chops with mint and a smoky white bean polenta, accompanied perfectly by a Concannon syrah. In fact, it was one of the best dishes I've had all year, and I enjoyed it so much I was literally gnawing the meat from the chop like a rib bone, a behavior which brought a rebuke from the Rock Star. (She loves to rebuke my behavior; it's a wife thing.) We finished up with a good tiramasu with sparkling wine for her, and an absolutely delicious chocolate/caramel Budina al Caramello for me (basically an Italian creme brulee); the limoncello drink I selected to accompany was a bit too sweet for my taste. As usual, we had leftovers boxed up. (I cannot bring myself to let such lovely food go to waste. Besides, leftover lunches are the best.)

SERVICE & WEBSITE

Nick was efficient and quite charming, always ready with useful ideas when called upon. (It was he who suggested the Budina.) Website is http://www.isabellafriscos.com/, where we took note of their excellent pricing structure. (All prices are under the $31 mark for food, and only a half-a-dozen wines top the century mark.) Clearly, a place that wants repeat business. They'll get it.

OVERALL

Restaurant Week may have ended by the time you read this, but Isabella's Italian Restaurant is clearly a bargain for neighborhood upscale cuisine any time of year. Visit yourself soon, and remember:

LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!

3 comments:

Margie said...

Sounds like a lovely meal. I always go for the wine pairing, if it's available. I know so little about wine. It's really fun for me to try new things.

Food Czar said...

Margie, the wonderful thing about wine is that it's learnable. As you keep trying new wines and types of wines, you'll find your palate growing and changing. Don't be surprised if one day you try a wine you used to like, only to find that you can no longer stand it. That's what happened to me and my wife regarding oaky Chardonnays.

Margie said...

I know it must be learnable. But, it seems like everything I'm told, I agree with and promptly forget! I'm bad with names. So, maybe that has something to do with it. I do appreciate a nice wine, though!