Day of the Week: Saturday, 12/15
Total Bill: $218.28 (before tip)
Breakdown: 1 drink, 4 glasses of wine, 1 appetizer, 1 salad, 3 entrees, 1 side, 3 desserts, 2 coffees
Pros: Excellent service, fresh food, great wine list, modern décor.
Cons: No cocktail menu.
Verdict: We’ll definitely go back.
I’ve seen the sign for Pelagia Trattoria at International Plaza for years. The restaurant is actually attached to the Renaissance Hotel. I’m always hesitant to try Italian restaurants because, really, how many ways can you make pasta? Not to mention, I’m not a fan of the usuals like veal piccata. But Pelagia Trattoria had a table at Taste of Westshore and their dish was one of the stand-outs of the event (braised short rib over house-made polenta). Hubby, Mom, and I were looking for a restaurant for our “Christmas” dinner. Mom really loved the dish at Taste of Westshore, so we decided to give the whole restaurant a try.
First, I know what you’re thinking. A restaurant attached to a hotel? Not promising. But Pelagia Trattoria could definitely stand on its own. The décor of the restaurant is modern with a Mediterranean influence. The kitchen is open and I could see that both the executive chef and sous chef were working that night. (You can read more about them both at http://www.pelagiatrattoria.com/new/?page_id=140.) Our server, Cindy, came over very quickly to introduce herself and take our drink order. She turned out to be one of those servers you wish you could take everywhere with you.
I was impressed with their wine list right off the bat, mainly because they offer several sparkling wines by the glass, all very reasonably priced. This is such a rarity in restaurants. I understand offering sparkling wines by the glass can result in some waste but a restaurant has to be about the experience, not just the bottom line. (A restaurant might be a little like a vineyard: “The way to make a little money is to start with a lot.”) I ordered a blanc de blancs champagne but they were out of it, so they recommended the Zonin prosecco to me ($10). I was so pleased with it, I had Hubby buy a bottle for Christmas. Cindy also helped me pick out a glass of wine for Mom, who loves Santa Margherita pinot grigio (but they only sell it by the bottle). We settled on King Estate pinot gris for her ($12/glass), which she said was good. (It must’ve been because she had a second glass, which is the equivalent of seeing Halley’s comet.)
We ordered the Pelagia sampler platter ($23), which allows you to pick four “stuzzichini” (small plates) “paired with salamino, toasted almonds & cured olives.” We had the shrimp a pil pil with tarragon vinaigrette (grilled shrimp, basically), manchego cheese and honey comb, garrotxa aged goat cheese and fig marmalade, and wild mushroom risotto croquettes. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the vinaigrette was an excellent accompaniment. The cheese was good (hard to mess up, though). My favorite was probably the croquettes. The risotto inside was really delicious, and the breading outside was nice and crispy. The olives, almonds, and meat were nice little munchies to have on the side, too. Hubby also had the “marinated yellow tomato salad” with “burrata, balsamic, and basil” ($13). The burrata was fantastic.
For my main, I had the “pappardelle with traditional bolognese & pecorino cheese” ($18). They make all their pastas there, which shows real commitment to fresh food, and it’s cooked al dente (which I prefer). The bolognese was really good (even more so the next day leftover!). Mom had the gnocchi with braised short rib ($25), which she really enjoyed. One thing that was impressive was that when Mom ordered it, Cindy kind of said, “Are you sure that’s what the menu says?” They had recently changed the gnocchi to short rib from wild boar ragu (which is what still shows on their website) and some of the menus hadn’t been updated. We later found out from the manager that Cindy is one of their newer servers, so the fact that she noticed the discrepancy demonstrated she really pays attention.
When we got to dessert, it was actually hard to choose, which tells me that the chef cares about all aspects of the meal. I had the white chocolate cheesecake (all desserts are $8), which was really good. The cheesecake had a good texture, wasn’t overly sweet, and had a really nice crust. Mom had the coffee and cigar (“Espresso Panna Cotta and Chocolate Cigar Tuille”), which was fantastic. Hubby had PT’s strawberries (sort of a fancy strawberry shortcake).
Before dessert, Cindy came by to take our dessert drink orders. I was going to have a glass of grappa since they do their own flavor infusions, so Cindy went to check the flavors for me, but then I thought better of it and decided just to have a cappuccino. (They had probably 10 infusions, which change regularly.) But since I’d never had grappa before (or so I thought—apparently I tried it on our European cruise but my memory of it is really vague) Cindy insisted on giving me a little sample anyway, so I picked the melon. It was excellent. The melon flavor was subtle and genuine. I had also asked Cindy to send the manager out so we could tell him how much we liked the place. Apparently, this pleased the chef, who sent out some of his own reserve grappa for the table to try, which was also really awesome. (Grappa is too strong for Mom and Hubby, so I had to drink theirs too! So much for slowing down.)
Just as we were paying the check, the manager came out to see us – with the executive and sous chefs! (For me, meeting chefs is like meeting celebrities.) How exciting. I like to meet the people who can create a special meal. To me, being a chef of that caliber shows a profound concern for and interest in other people. What does it tell you that every culture has its own special food traditions? Food is a vital part of humanity and civilization. Animals can’t cook.
I would definitely go back to Pelagia Trattoria. I loved their wine list, the service was excellent, and the food was fresh and well thought out. It’s just a friendly, warm place. Pelagia hits all the high notes.