Friday, May 9, 2008

Tucci's, Dublin Ohio

Recently named one of Columbus' Top 20 restaurants and bumping Trattoria La Tavola off the list, I went into Tucci's expecting good things. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps the restaurant isn't that great....regardless, Trattoria was better in terms of taste, quality, value, service, and especially noise level. The last part, honestly, is shocking considering my biggest complaint about Trattoria was the excessively loud bar.

Arriving with an old college friend and her husband at 6:30, the space was relatively unoccupied and quiet. Bread was served promptly and was rich, heartly, crusty, and delicious. The mixture of balsamic and EVOO served along with the bread was equally delectable and quite complex.

For appetizers they selected the calamari which I was told was quite good while I opted for the standout plate of the evening, the incredibly diverse and perfectly delivered octopus salad. The octopus was tender on the inside and crispy but perfect on the outside. For a mere $7 there was more octopus than you'd receive for double the price at a sushi joint and the flavor, texture, and accompaniments were better. The pinenuts fresh, the greens beautiful, and the chili oil spicey yet refined. One of the best salads I've had in some time.
For our mains, two of us selected the Paella Style Risotto with lobster, rock shrimp, chorizo, mussels, mint pesto while the other chose the Spanish pizza. The pizza was spicy, but generally quite tasteless compared to the options ot Trattoria and Spagio....and not even within a breath of the options at Spago. The Risotto, while attractive and well flavored, seemed somewhat overpowered by the chorizo. I'm really not sure why the chef would select to place a spicy pork sausage in with such delicate seafood options, but IMO this is akin to the Simpsons episode where the chef offers to stuff the finest food with the second finest food.....lobster stuffed with tacos. The sauce was heavenly and the seafood well prepared, but in general I was underwhelmed.

It was approximately 1/2 way through the main course that my friend noted "wow, this place got really loud all of a sudden." I'd thought the same earlier and opted not to mention it, but at this point it wasn't just noticable, it was obnoxious. While no specific person or table was loud, the entire place literally had a Buckeye Stadium-like "noise" similar to the moment before kickoff. While I'm certainly not a 'loud talker,' I felt like I was yelling at my dining buddies, something I don't like at all.

While the meal was decently portioned for the prices, I felt the need to endulge and chose to get dessert. An Italian place without Tiramisu? Lame. While the Peanut Butter Cheesecake sounded interesting, I instead opted for the more complex Molten Chocolate Pudding Cake with Warm Cherry Compote and Hazelnut Gelato. While a solid choice and quite delicious, the cherry compote was vastly superior to the cake and the $8 pricetag seemed quite excessive for the small portion. The gelato was okay but certainly not on par with Jeni's, Worthington Inn, or Rosendales. I generally don't feel ripped off by dessert, but for the second time in a row a loud Italian restaurant in Dublin failed to deliver in the sweets category.

The bill was modest, totalling $35 for appetizer, main, and dessert and service was okay (not good, not bad) but I just cannot get past the noise. While the food was good, it lacked the creativity of higher end places and the quality of local produce noted at Trattoria. While I would certainly return for bread and the Octopus salad, I cannot say I'll be rushing back or sending any of my friends to Tucci's anytime soon. If I were to return, it'd certainly be for the beautiful looking patio during the summer......but then again, I'd sooner sit and overlook the river with a better quality pasta at Trattoria. The wine list, from what I'm told, was quite adequate and well priced....which I guess could be responsible for the noise.

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