Gawky adolescence

There are times when I struggle with full disclosure. A dirty fork or lipstick smudges on a water glass? I would give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt unless they pointed to a larger issue. Similarly, I might ignore a disconnect with a server as long as the correct dishes were delivered to the table.

Thus far, I haven’t had too many such dilemmas in my tenure as a restaurant reviewer. So, it was with a sinking heart that I found big, red smudges on my glass as soon as I sat down at Andiamo recently. It was promptly whisked away by the busboy, who apologized profusely. I wouldn’t have given it another thought, except for a feeling that solidified throughout the meal that Andiamo is coasting and that this sloppiness has permeated the food, the service and the ambience.

The server arrived at our table soon after the menus and water. She silently removed all the menus from the table before circling around to stand next to the only person incapable of ordering for himself, the 7-year-old. Then, she waited there silently until I began shouting our orders to her. And then, rather than asking if we wanted drinks, she said, “So, you’re all having water?” A snide comment about the amount of food left on my plate later in the evening was a little off-putting as well.

Of course, small glitches in the service would have been forgiven if the food had been up to par. But, from the appetizers on, Andiamo’s food proved disappointing. An order of ravioli fritti ($6.95), ravioli stuffed with cheese and deep-fried, was decent fare but not outstanding. The fried calamari ($7.95), which was accompanied by marinara and lemon aioli dips, was more problematic. The rings of squid were tender—not a mean feat with a food that can be rubbery if overcooked—but the batter was more limp than crispy and was noticeably greasy. A lack of attention marred our entrées, as well. A rotisserie chicken ($11.95) was overcooked and dry. The rice in a seafood risotto had been cooked into submission and was mushy when it should have been al dente. And what had been done to the accompanying vegetables was criminal. I haven’t seen zucchini and broccoli overcooked to this stage since my last visit to Oklahoma.

A different problem arose with what can only be characterized as a wrongheaded approach to seasoning on some side dishes. Take, for example, the rotisserie chicken, served with unexceptional mashed potatoes and a mound of cornbread-apple stuffing that tasted overwhelmingly of anise. An over-enthusiastic hand with the spices also distinguished the applesauce served with charbroiled pork chops ($14.95). Though the sauce was pleasantly chunky, it tasted so strongly of cinnamon that it was nearly inedible, and it certainly overpowered the meat. The apple-brandy demi-glaze coating the chops was less intense, but its sweetness still detracted from the dish.

Other dishes fared much better. A spicy penne dish ($12.95) that came tossed with chicken, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts, roasted garlic and hot red pepper got rave reviews. A chicken-apple salad ($10.95) gained some interest, with grilled chicken, Gorgonzola, caramelized walnuts and a raspberry-walnut vinaigrette to spark the dish. And, though the rice in the risotto was overcooked, there was nothing wrong with the rich saffron sauce or perfectly cooked mixture of scallops, mussels, bay shrimp and calamari.

Dinner ended on an up note, with some scintillating desserts. Andiamo also serves good coffee, which is more rare than it should be in upscale restaurants. The tiramisu ($4.50) was a faithful version of the Italian standard. This means no chucklehead messed with the classic combination of sponge cake soaked in espresso and brandy, layered with mascarpone cheese and sprinkled with chocolate. A delicious and decadent chocolate torte ($4.50) consisted of chocolate mousse in a chocolate cookie crust, served with raspberry coulis.

Andiamo enjoys a great location just off a main thoroughfare, in the space once occupied by longtime Sacramento landmark the Rosemont Grill, and an upscale look provides the requisite ambience. It’s a shame that the food seems to have slipped in the 12 years since Andiamo opened for business. I hope this is just an adolescent phase and that the restaurant will regain some of its luster.