Funky paisan

Frasinetti’s is such a cool, quaint and interesting place that it pains me somewhat to have to report that neither the food nor the wine are particularly good. Despite the lack of gustatory delights, though, I feel drawn to return there for the combination of history, atmosphere and sheer uniqueness the place offers. I love the fact that I’ve lived in this town for decades and can still chance upon a place of such singular character.

Frasinetti’s Winery has been in operation since 1897. Since it now only sells its wine at its restaurant or in its tasting room, its operation is necessarily smaller than it once was, and for the past 15 years it’s had a restaurant and bar in operation within the winery among the cement fermentation tanks and redwood wine vats. There’s also a little tasting room/gift shop and a nice outdoor deck and gazebo.

If you’re not real choosy about your wine, the tasting room is a great prelude to an evening at Frasinetti’s Restaurant. Free of charge, you can dull your senses to the underwhelming dinner that awaits. No, the wine’s not great, but simply because wine is typically a point of much snobbery doesn’t mean you have to treat inferior wine with smug disdain. I mean, I love Belgian ales, but I don’t see any need to turn my nose up at the occasional Colt 45, you know what I mean? So when you walk in to the tasting room and see a sign behind the bar that says, “I feel more like I do now than I did when I got here,” and half-gallon jugs of port selling for $10, you should know clearly where you stand. Don’t turn up your nose—embrace your country roots and start swigging! Just make sure you’ve got some aspirin handy.

But eventually you will sit down to dinner. It’s hard to be as easy on the food because, unlike middling wine, mediocre food has no power of intoxication to offset its shortcomings.

The menu is mainly Ameritalian (or is it Italifornian?) fare. Items generally sound tasty enough: smoked chicken ravioli ($9.95), scallop and prawn risotto ($12.95) and scallopine of veal “Montemurro” sit alongside the more pedestrian spaghetti and meatballs ($8.95) and fettuccine Alfredo ($7.95).

We started out with the crab and artichoke dip ($4.95), which turned out to be the best part of the meal. Rich as hell, laden with Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and fresh garlic, the crab and artichoke flavors were somewhat muted. But it didn’t matter; when spread on the fried crostinis it was delicious. Alas, nothing to follow would be as good.

A “chop chop” salad ($4.95) disappointed with its grossly overdressed and flaccid julienned strips of Romaine lettuce, composed not of the hearts so much as the dark green exterior leaves.

One “house specialty” that promised to have a nice down-home appeal was “Grandma Rose’s” pot roast ($9.95). A big hunk of meltingly tender braised beef sat over a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce. But something was quite wrong in the seasoning, as though the cook had but feeble sensory perceptions or simply didn’t care.

Another dish, the walnut-encrusted pork medallions ($12.95), came with a decent piece of fried cutlet. However, it was awash in what was called a honey mustard cream sauce, which tasted rather like merely reduced and unseasoned cream. The garlic mashed potatoes, too, were gooey in texture and weakly seasoned. I was not surprised to find a forlorn pile of abused and haphazardly chopped vegetables lying off to one side and couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for them.

So why would I want to go back? Well, for one thing, the servers were fun, and the place had a generally jolly and friendly vibe to it. Visually and atmospherically, the winery is pleasing and harkens back to simpler times. So why not go hang out at the bar, soak up some local history and have some cheap Chianti and garlic bread? It’s a neat place; too bad it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.