Young at heart

THE MOST RECENT BATTLE IN THE age-old war between youth and experience was fought at Piatti last Saturday night, and the winner was …well, first you have to read the review.

Nestled in a cozy corner of the luxurious Pavilions Shopping Plaza, Piatti is one of those places where the waiters have the bread on the table almost before you sit down. It’s delivered with a flourish: A small, upside-down container on a saucer is turned right side up, and out sloshes a mixture of balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping fresh-baked focaccia. Soak it all up, along with high ceilings, expansive archways, terra cotta tiles and a minimalist decor. No unnecessary distractions—the perfect setting for a generational conflict.

We’re not talking hand-to-hand combat here. It was more of a clash between competing styles. On one side of our table, four teenage couples from Ponderosa High School in Oak Ridge were on a group homecoming date. On the other, bubbeh and zayde (grandma and grandpa), were trying to enjoy a quiet evening out.

From the get-go, youth, resplendent in formal evening gowns and matching teal shirts with ties, was looking good. But so was bubbeh in her leopard print pantsuit. No clear winner yet.

We pulled away from the spectacle long enough to order a half-dozen Walupa oysters and veal sweetbreads for starters. The oysters, served with wedges of lemon and a hot-and-sweet dipping sauce, slid nicely down the Palate. The sweetbreads, sauteed in a rich brown sauce with fresh field mushrooms, were white, tender and extremely salty. Not even the excellent Echelon pinot noir, light and spicy, could cut that much sodium.

Fortunately, our salad selection, an enormous roasted portobello mushroom served with arugula, feta and tomato, instantly made us forget the sweetbreads. The exemplary service continued as the waiter split the salad at the table, using two spoons held together in one hand as makeshift tongs. The mushroom was simply incredible, thick and meaty as filet minion, with a smoky flavor complemented perfectly by the tangy vinaigrette and sharp feta. Meanwhile, the high school girls were making the first wrong move. All four of them got up to use the bathroom at the same time, leaving the boys to wrestle with the pasta. At any rate, we took a tip from the bubbeh and ordered the stuffed petrale sole, one of the evening specials, along with braised lamb shank.

The two lamb shanks we received were dauntingly enormous. The meat, lightly seasoned with gremolata, a garnish made of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic, shredded easily off the bone with a fork in steamy, succulent hunks that we then slid through brown sauce and creamy polenta before popping into our eagerly awaiting mouths. Lamb, the other red meat. Fantastic.

Yet it was no match for our other entree.

The two generous filets (about three times the size you normally see in the store) came stuffed with rock shrimp, spinach, black-eyed peas and pine nuts; all the ingredients were cooked perfectly—no mean feat. It was the best rendering of this dish I’ve had anywhere, let alone Sacramento.

With great fanfare, the high schoolers exuberantly rushed off to their dance as the bubbeh worked her way through cono di estiva—hot fudge drizzled all over gelato and fresh strawberries stuffed in a pastry shell. The kids were late, and so were we. We admired their youthful enthusiasm, but not their lack of patience.

We relaxed and ordered the cona di estiva.