In the wise words of my husband, "Good food forgives a plethora of evils". This adage could truly be the tagline for Beppe, a rustic Italian joint on 22nd and Park. My gorgeous and intelligent husband and I spent a highly anticipated dinner at this restaurant on a Sunday in celebration of my recent birthday. I must say that sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment.
Perhaps I was expecting a level of sophistication and ambience to which Beppe did not aspire. Maybe I'm just a crazy actor and I'm obsessed with good lighting. Perchance I'm a stickler for great service. Or . . . it was just not that great of a meal. First things first, I enjoy a rusticly decorated dining area, but our restaurant's decor was more a provincial Italian diner than a New York restaurant that charges upwards of thirty bones for a dish. We sat at a wooden four-top table that had an unfolded yellow and white gingham napkin as a centerpiece. No candle. Our "centerpiece", though, did match our blue and white gingham-rimmed plates with blue roosters at the center. I think you get the picture. For all one knows, our table could have been much less chintzy under anything other than department store track lighting. Whatever. I wasn't having it. The largest tragedy of the room was a gorgeous working stone fireplace that was completely blocked and surrounded by . . . what? A server station. Servers were cutting bread, sipping iced tea, and chatting in front of the crackling fire. Not to begrudge the servers a little comfort, but come on! I would actually not have even noticed the fire if not for the fact that I had to SEARCH for our server more than once.
Which brings me to the service. Our server was nice enough and did not confuse any of our orders, but that was it. She was definitely not interested in checking up on us at all. First, we had bread and olive oil, but no pepper. As a matter of fact, we didn't have salt or pepper even on the table. So we decided to ask for some. We tried so long to flag down our server for pepper that we gave up. This continued pretty much throughout the meal. At one point, our server came by and asked how we were enjoying our wine. Victor said that it didn't have as much tannin as he would have expected. She sighed, picked up the bottle, looked at the back and said, "Yeah. This is 78% sangiovese. That's always gonna be really light." WHAT?!? Then she set the bottle back down and walked away. Um . . . yeah . . . so, apparently, they don't do a lot of server education in the wine department either. The proper response (particularly if you are obviously challenged in the arena of varietals) is, "I'm sorry, sir. Can I bring you something else?".
The sad thing about our meal was that the food was superb. Not Per Se superb, but rustic and earthy Italian you-should-be-eating-it-by-a-roaring-fire-if-there-weren't-a-server-station-there food. Besides the fact that the specials were basically calamari and spaghetti and meatballs, everything about the menu was great. Victor had a mushroom pappardelle pasta (homemade pasta, that is) that was so compelling that I talked him into switching plates with me (hey, it was my birthday). My red wine braised short ribs over mashed potatoes was equally as earthy and fresh. My degustory delight was finished off by a peanut butter tart with grape sorbet and the Beppe version of a s'more. Both as yummy as they were fattening. (But, calories don't count on birthdays. Duh.)
I looked up with half of the tart left to go. Hey. Did someone turn down the lights? No. Was the yellow gingham still there? Yes. Hmm. Somehow, I suddenly found the place significantly less visually offensive. I took another bite of tart and slathered grape sorbet on top. As the concoction tickled my taste buds, I recounted Victor's words. Yep. Not a bad experience after all. In New York, we are lucky enough to have tons of wonderfully well rounded restaurants and we generally don't have to settle for one that is lacking in any way. For that evening, though, all wrongs had in fact, been forgiven by my stomach.